Berlin's Tasty Christmas Markets
It’s 4 p.m. in Berlin’s cobbled Gendarmenmarkt square, under a pewter-grey winter sky that looks like it’s never seen the sun. But while the locals – well-wrapped in fleece, gloves and thick scarves – hustle past on their chilly shopping expeditions, I’m toasty warm.
Bookended between handsome domed churches, I’m sipping a steaming mug of spicy gluhwein and nibbling a bulging, mustard slathered rostbratwurst hot dog. Yuletide carols percolate through the light mist as I stare like a Dickens street urchin at a glowing fir tree the size of a large house.
Europe’s Christmas markets are the best in the world. But while their arts and craft stalls are a highlight for many, I’ve launched a belt-popping quest to scoff their tastiest food and drink -- starting with Berlin. I’m anticipating some naughty culinary excess, along with an extra kilo of souvenir lagging to take back home with me.
Picking up a warm bag of candied cashews for the road, I hop on a U-Bahn underground train to my second stop. Berlin has around 60 Christmas markets – the first was recorded in the 16th-century – and the city’s accessible transit system makes locating them a doddle. Add the ubiquity of spoken English here and it makes sampling seasonal treats an easy urban adventure.
Teeming with wandering teenagers perusing cool T-shirt stands, I'm soon at Alexanderplatz. The area delivers big crowds and a lighthouse-sized, blade-topped weihnachtspyramide wooden tower, topped with life-sized nativity figures. Handily, there’s also an alfresco bar at the bottom. I try a glow-triggering rum eggnog, followed a little too quickly by a cinnamony mulled wine called feuerzangen, a regional specialty.
Slightly merry, I weave among the remaining stalls, trying out my little-understood schoolboy German and picking up foil-wrapped chocolate St. Nicholas figures and a mini marzipan-stuffed stolen to go. And after popping a quick dessert – a naughty chocolate-covered marshmallow – I follow the crowds southwards to what quickly becomes my favourite Berlin market.
In the shadow of the hulking, redbrick City Hall, the labyrinthine, family-friendly Berliner Weihnachtszeit market is beloved by the locals. They come for the giant illuminated Ferris wheel, romantic outdoor ice-rink and nostalgic dishes designed to stave off the bleakest of mid-winters.
Circling the hundreds of garland-topped stands like a Christmas piranha, I dive in for an early dinner: heaping boiled grunkohl (green cabbage) topped with two slender sausages and a rye bread wedge. A few minutes later, I greedily chase it with some irresistible quarkkeulchen – dark doughnut balls dusted with icing sugar. Highly addictive, it’s a struggle to avoid going back for more.
If you go:
Berlin's Christmas markets open daily until December 24, with some continuing into the New Year. Starting around midday, they typically run until at least 8 p.m. Check for information on the markets and on arranging city visits via Visit Berlin (www.visitberlin.de).
The Honigmond Hotel (www.honigmond.de) is a well-located sleepover recommendation.