(Editor’s note: See more Christmas Market posts here in Dispatches’ archives.)
Ah, Christmas in Berlin! The bustling German Capital is abundant in Weihnachtsmarkts, with the city of Berlin’s website listing more than 80 in operation. The amount of choices can leave one clueless as to where to begin celebrating the season.
Fortunately for me, my German girlfriend has top level Christmas Market intel, which affords us an excellent curation of the city’s festivities.
Here are two solid picks for a satisfying night of drinking, strolling and getting into that holiday vibe. These two Christmas markets are within walking distance of one another, so you can knock a couple off of your list, however large or small that might be, in just one night.
The Winter Market at Humboldt Forum is a brand new addition to the Weihnachtsmarkt scene, located on the beautiful Musee Insel (Museum Island) in the Mitte district on Schlossplatz and in the Schlüterhof of the Berlin Palace. It has many excellent things to check out and is also very kid-friendly with rides, including a gorgeous historical carousel.
All of the traditional German Christmas market deliciousness is on point, with the smells of delectable raclette (stinky, melty cheese), toasted almonds, cheesy spätzle (think mac n’ cheese) and of course Glühwein (mulled wine) seeping into one’s nose and heart. There’s also a lot of fun shopping to be had, with vendors and artisans offering up all kinds of ceramics, carved wood art and even hand-blown glass.
Our favorite part of this market was not a delight of the taste buds however, but of the eyes. The already stunning walls of the Berlin Palace (Schlossplatz) are brought to bright, Christmas-y life with elaborately designed video art installations by Böhlke, a celebrated illumination company that creates light art on buildings in Berlin for the city’s Festival of Lights. During our visit, the facade of the great structure was covered with moving yellow stars of all shapes, giving the palace a magical, cosmic glow that made me wonder if maybe they put something more than allspice in my Glühwein.
After making the rounds, enjoying lots of pointing, tasting and saying “Oooooooo pretttttttty” or “wowwwww that tastes sooooooo gooooooood,” we longed for a pause. Sometimes all the buzz, festive lights and mulled wine of a Weihnachtsmarkt in full swing can be dizzying; one yearns for a comfortable seat somewhere warm.
After a quick scroll to Nikolaiviertel, a historically accurate renovated old quarter of Berlin that was founded in 1230, blown up during the Battle of Berlin in 1945, then re-created in 1987, we arrived at a lesser known markt somewhat off the beaten holiday path that successfully combines “Netflix and Chill” with requisite public drinking and Xmas-ing: Feuerzangenbowle Markt.
On the way there, we pass by a small indoor area, where a bunch of men are pushing large circular shapes across a sheet of ice with big sticks. This is Eisstockschießen (Literally: Ice Stick Shooting, or . . . Curling). I had only previously witnessed this game on television and I always liked it; it seemed like a sport one could do whilst drinking, and the red faced men sliding their stones down the ice were proof that yes, holiday imbibing can also be sporty.
After watching the players for a while, we move on and arrive at our next stop: a much quieter, laid back Weihnachtsmarkt with major film buff energy. An ode to the eponymous 1944 film, the “Feuerzangenbowle Markt” is set up with several large flat screen TVs and a projector all showing the German cinema classic, which everyone I know in Berlin seems to be familiar with. Comfortable couches and chairs stand on bright red carpet, and there is ample heating so you can really cozy up and enjoy the film, all with the help of the principal item on offer: a drink known as the Feuerzangenbowle.
Translating literally as “Fire Tong Punch Bowl,” this drink delivers. With a base of spiced wine, the Feuerzangenbowle satisfies that wintery Glühwein craving for something that warms you up and gives you a little buzz, but this concoction has a very special touch: above the punch bowl sit three giant, burning, rum-soaked sugar loaves, which you can watch melt into the vessel, sweeting the wine with rum laced sugar.
We sit for a while savoring the wine and the film, which I resolve to watch later in its entirety. As we warm ourselves under the umbrella heater, with glorious black and white flickering in our eyes and the tranquil glow of holiday lights diffused by relaxation and hot, subtly sweet wine, it strikes me that the Feuerzangenbowle markt is perhaps the most metaphysical Christmas Market in the universe.
Nikolaivertel, the quarter that we are sitting in the middle of, was restored to be historically accurate to the houses of Old Berlin, but the area is surrounded by giant, Communist-Era highrises (Plattenbau) giving the whole area the feel of a movie set, a place that looks real but feels delightfully uncanny.
We’re transported to an older Germany not just by the film, but also by the architecture we are surrounded by, recreations of majestic buildings destroyed by war. One is simultaneously hit with warm old-movie nostalgia and a reminder of the dark, dark times in Berlin’s history.
The Feuerzangenbowle markt then is not only a celebration of Christmas but also an ode to Berlin as well, a city that is looking towards the future, and always remembering its past.
Winter Markt @ Humboldtforum
Friday, 1 December 2023 – Sunday, 7 January 2024
|Ground Floor, Schlüter Courtyard
daily: 11:00 am – 10:00 pm
07/01/24: 11:00 am – 08:00 pm
The film starts Mon-Fri 5:00 p.m. // 7:30 p.m
Sat & Sun 2:00 p.m. / 5:00 p.m. // 7:30 p.m
See more Christmas Market posts here in Dispatches’ archives.