From food to artistic offerings, soak in the festive spirit at these happy fairs in the German capital
It is an early December evening and the air in Berlin’s Bebelplatz is filled with the aroma of festive food and drink. The spirit of Yuletide is in the air as chestnuts roast by the open fire, while throngs of people hold mulled grape juice glasses to cheer for the onset of Christmas season.
Well, this is one of the many Christmas markets in the German city teeming with merry-makers high on festive spirit. They are excited and unbridled after two unforgiving years of a pandemic when humanity was caught between lockdowns and fighting a deadly virus.
What would be the nearest Christmas market, I ask at the concierge of my hotel (NH Collection) at Checkpoint Charlie. “Your nearest is Bebelplatz,” comes the answer. I waste no time in venturing out to experience one of the Christmas markets that the city is known for.
This was my first time at a Christmas market and as I walked the few blocks on this chilling (short of freezing) Berlin night, the excitement in me was palpable. This market is usually located on a beautiful square in Berlin, but due to construction work, it shifted to nearby Bebelplatz.
But as I reached the grand venue (between the imposing State Opera House, a Humboldt University campus, St. Hedwig’s Cathedral and Hotel de Rome), I was overwhelmed. My press card saved one precious euro of entry fee (I had hardly exchanged my currency till then) and here I was in a beautiful Christmas market in the heart of Berlin, sparkling with stalls of food, arty offerings and a large Christmas tree at the centre.
But above all, it was the throngs of post-pandemic happy crowds that made me ecstatic. It was kind of like a “being here, doing this, thank you universe” feeling.
In a Christmas market, the attraction is usually food. So apart from the roasted almonds, chestnuts and mulled grape, one can explore many other culinary delights. I tried some sweet and savoury snacks but you can try the traditional German dishes.
While it is cold outside, one can enjoy food in the warm and cosy comfort of the makeshift covered restaurant areas. After making several enthusiastic rounds of the market, as I was stepping out, two stilt performers with their painted faces and in fancy royal costumes added to my merriment. I could not ask for more. I left to wait for another night of Christmas market-hopping in Berlin.
The next night was the Christmas market in Berlin’s western centre, almost in the famous district of Kurfürstendamm, where the city’s most popular shopping street runs from Breitscheidplatz to Halensee.
After walking the street lined with top brands of the world — my wistful, consumerist eyes devouring the display windows of Armani, Chanel, Dior and Louis Vuitton — I reached the Christmas market around Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church on Breitscheidplatz.
This has nearly 100 stalls selling everything from toys, classic decorations and glass and bronze art objects to food. I bought myself a glass of mulled grape juice with gingerbread and decided to melt into the go-with-the-flow crowd.
There were happy faces all around and many — both young and old — were signing up for the amusement rides while some iconic structures, including the towering presence of World War II-bombed Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church with its ruins, and modern swanky highrise office buildings overlooked the happiness zone that is a Berlin Christmas market.
While Berlin is the place to be if you are planning Christmas market-hopping, the rest of Europe is dotted with such markets on different scales at this time of the year.
After Berlin, on a stopover in Warsaw on the way to Budapest, I loved the market in the Warsaw Old Town centre. The Warsaw Old Town centre is iconic for its beauty and cobbled streets, and here in December, the charm of the place is amplified by the stalls of the Christmas market.
The Christmas market here is just next to the Castle Square. So check out the stalls for some mouth-watering food and souvenirs while enjoying the mesmerising sight of revellers of all ages skating in the Old Town’s ice rink, like a scene lifted from a candyfloss movie.
My last stop of this tour was Budapest. It was very cold with mostly overcast skies, but the evenings were spiced up by an excited crowd exploring the market stalls along the Fashion Street Budapest, a pedestrian zone now decorated with elaborate, filigree light motifs.
While the main Christmas fair here is in Vörösmarty Square, the Advent Feast at St Stephen’s Basilica (adjacent to the Fashion Street) is where I was. Later, I was thrilled to learn that it has been voted the best market of its kind in Europe in recent years consecutively.
So, this is the time to land in Europe, and if you are looking to soak in the spirit of Christmas markets, go start with Berlin.