Christmas Market Tour 2013: Berlin- Gendarmemarkt

Located two blocks south of Unter den Linden at the square surrounded by Französische Strasse, Mohrenstrasse, Charlottenstrasse and Markgrafenstrasse, the Gendarmenmarkt is one of the most popular of market squares in Berlin-Mitte, and a symbol of the German-French Friendship. It features a concert hall, built in 1821 and which houses the Berlin Symphony Orchestra, and is flanked by two different cathedrals on each side. On the right features the French Cathedral, built in 1705 and now houses the Huguenot Museum. On the left, the German cathedral, built five years later and now houses the Museum of German History. At the center of the market stands a statue of one of the greatest German poets of all time, Friedrich Schiller. The place is where music comes to life and given its proximity in the French Quarter, one will see signs of a French-German relationship which has withstood the test of time and remains strong to this day.

This is why the market, named after the French regiment Gen d’Armes which was stationed at this site until 1773, is a really popular attraction for people passing through. And when Christmas time comes around, the market becomes an attractive beacon, luring people into the site filled with rows of white canopy tents topped with a yellow star each. When you pay one Euro to enter the market, one will have a taste of French delicatessen in the form of apple chips, cheese products and other French entrées, as well as other international dishes from regions in Europe, while being awed by some classical music and dancing by several local artists and groups. Most of these concerts take place in front of the steps leading to the Concert Hall and people can stop by and stay as long as they please. And this is in addition to the concerts that are held inside the building itself, which makes it an even more attractive destination for music lovers.  Yet at night, it is even more attractive as the Concert Hall and the two Cathedrals are lit up with various arrays of colors, which makes it a very attractive site for photography, especially for those who happen to stop by at this spot after spending time at the Opernpalais, which is 300 meters away.

The idea of charging for entry to the market is a rather smart choice. One has to look at the fact that the Gendarmenmarkt is one of the smallest of the Christmas markets in Berlin. taking up only two thirds of the space that is offered at the square in general. Leaving it open for people to enter and go as they please would have resulted in the tents being trampled and the people selling goods being overwhelmed. So in a way, a fee would not only stem the flow of people visiting the market, but provide more income for the market and its vendors. Yet a substantial portion of the money raked in from sales and fees goes to charity, as the organizers are engaged in projects benefiting the poor and disadvantaged living in Berlin. With a 10% unemployment rate and half of them being homeless, Berlin is in the top three of all the states and city-states in Germany, competing with Mecklenburg-Pommerania and the city-state of Bremen. Yet they are going out of their way to make sure everyone gets a chance to learn and develop, especially the children of those affected by poverty. Some examples of how the market is helping these children can be found here.  Given the problems Germany still has with poverty, problems with the education system and the inflexibility of the job market in hiring people, such measures can go a long way to ensuring that people can succeed.  But if that is not sufficient enough, one can look at the advantages of charging fees to enter a Christmas market as a way of controlling the crowd of people entering. especially at night, when things can get out of hand because of too much alcohol consumption. Can you think of a Christmas market that has this scheme or should have one, and if so, why?

I would like to end this entry with a bang! That’s right, the Gendarmenmarkt will end its 11th annual run with a concert and fireworks on New Year’s Eve with a celebration at the market place. Up until 1am in the New Year, people can celebrate, watch fireworks and sing along as the market comes to a close. A fitting way to end it for this rather small but very popular market, that is until next year, when it opens again in November.

More about the Christmas market here can be found via photos (here) and facts (here and here)

2013 Christmas Market Pop Quiz II: The Answers

After having a look at the pictures of the statues of the fairy tale figures, taken at the Gera Christmas market, here are the answers to the Pop Quiz. We would like to know where these fairy tales come from. Click on the answers for more details:

Cinderella

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs

The Frog Prince

Puss in Boots

Hansel and Gretel

The Valiant Little Tailor

Rapunzel

Bremen Town Musicians

Mother Goose

We hope you had a chance to try out the quiz and not to worry if one of the answers is incorrect. Sometimes a little refresher helps us, while this is mainly for the kids who would like to know more about them. 🙂

The Flensburg Files will continue its coverage on Berlin’s Christmas markets during the holiday season, with plans of providing you with the last market stop and the quiz on the number of Christmas markets in Germany’s capital in January. In the meantime, the Files and its sister column, The Bridgehunter’s Chronicles, would like to wish everyone all the best this holiday season. Merry Christmas and a Happy 2014 from our house to yours.

Christmas market tour 2013 Pop Quiz Part I: The answer

Photo taken in November 2013

 

And now the answer to the first question in our Pop Quiz:

We wanted to know from you what this picture is. This was taken during our stop at the Christmas market in Gera, Thuringia. Here’s the answer:

Futterkrippe (rough translation for cratch)

Believe it or not, a manger set is not complete without a cratch for the animals. This goes back to the story of how Jesus Christ was born in accordance to the gospels of Matthew and Luke. Mary and Joseph went from Nazareth to Bethlehem where Jesus was born. Yet when he was born, he was wrapped in swaddling clothes and laid in a manger, for the inn was full and there was no other place left to stay. The animals depicted in the manger, the donkey, camel, and sheep were present at the time of the birth and they needed to be fed accordingly. This is where the cratch came into the picture.  It is filled with fodder or other feed, and animals can eat off that, while having their heads protected from the rain, etc.  by a roof

One can see these in the manger sets at many of the Christmas markets in Germany, especially those in areas that are surrounded by forests, like the ones in Thuringia, Saxony, Hesse and Bavaria. They’re usually made out of wood from pine and fir trees and are decorated with needles, as depicted in the picture. Some are attached to the manger set, while others just stand out alone, representing a symbol of hope and prosperity that would come out of the birth of our Lord. Others are integrated into a fairy tale that has animals in there.  In real life, cratches are used on farms for livestock and in forests for wildlife, in particular, deer, boar and the like.   But in the case of the Christmas market, they are a specialty at the market for people to see. So the next time you see one of these at a German Christmas market, remember what it is, what it is used for and how it was tied in with the story of Baby Jesus and the fairy tales.

Now, back to the Christmas market tour in Berlin and the next market place visited, which is….. 🙂

2013 Christmas Market Tour: Berlin- Opernpalais at Unter den Linden

Overview of the market with the cathedral in the background.

Sometimes, an accidental find can be one that is a jewel’s worth. The Christmas market at Opernpalais, located at Berlin’s Werder Market along Unter den Linden, west of the TV-Tower is one of those jewels that was discovered by accident as we were trying to find the one at Potsdamer Platz but decided to return to the one at Alexanderplatz. Like the silver and gold ornaments that you find on a Christmas tree, the market at Opernpalais is as colorful but in different ways. The huts are built together, lining  along the aisles and decorated with golden yellow lights.  A canopy is covered in Christmas lights and cover a third of the huts located next to the Church, as seen in the picture above. Yet given its proximate location, in the vicinity of many Baroque and Victorian buildings (many of which were restored to their original form), one is due for a treat, as many of them are lit in different colors, some of which are covered with the famous yellow-colored Christmas stars. Coming from Alexanderplatz along Unter den Linden, one will find this display as impressive, a grand overture to what the market looks like on the inside.

Yet one needs to navigate around the construction area in order to get to the market itself, for the only way in and out is through a side street running parallel to Unter den Linden. This has to do with the construction of buildings and a subway U5 connecting Alexanderplatz and Potsdamer Platz. But once entering the market, one is greeted with jazz music provided by local artists, whose origins are not that of Germany. During the visit, we were greeted by a jazz duo from the USA, who sang Christmas songs and remade songs from the 1960s and 70s- a treat to the (not so) popular music we listen to on the radio nowadays. But the atmosphere is very relaxed, where people listen to the music over some mulled wine and grog, while watching the children dance about in front of the stage, providing some support to the duo and entertainment to the parents who love to see them become artists in the future.

Yet when combing along two long rows of huts of the Christmas market, one will find mainly homemade arts and crafts items from many places around the world. Where exactly? There are some from places in South America, Russia and Africa, like one of the stands in the picture below:

Here we find a stand where many handmade goods are from Africa, made of natural materials and glass. If one wants a circle of friends candle, a bracelet or even an instrument that is unique for the region, this is the place. This includes the two-sided mini-drum on a stick, where one has to turn quickly back and forth with both hands together. The salesperson demonstrated this unique instrument during our visit at the stand, prompting my daughter to buy one for her small music collection. But this is only one of many hand-crafted items that a person can see while at the market. There are stools and other furniture with artwork, hand-made ornaments that one cannot see at other Christmas markets in Germany, and even clothing using fur of llamas, such as slippers in a shape of a pair of boots. If one wants something very unique, then perhaps an hour or so at this area will do. And even if one is finished with all the shopping, just being there for the food and entertainment is enough as is, although one should take some time to see the architecture along the way.

This leads us to the climax and last point of our visit to the Opernpalais: For those who don’t believe in Santa Claus, he really does exist! He flew over the market at around 7:00pm during the jazz concert, just as we were returning to our hotel at Alexanderplatz. Providing a bit of spark and two pairs of reindeer, he was on his way to the next market we will get to, wishing everyone a Merry Christmas. It was just unusual that he had to fly in reverse as he left the scene. Given the proximity of the market to the nearby church, as well as some hi-rise buildings nearby, it would not be surprising that he had his reindeer pull the sleigh along the street. If that’s the case, with no snow on the ground, let’s hope his elves have a couple extra pairs of blades ready, just in case the sleigh breaks down before delivering the gifts on Christmas Eve. 😉

More on the Christmas market at Opernpalais and photos can be found via Flensburg Files on facebook by clicking here!

2013 Christmas Market Tour: Berlin- Alexanderplatz

Alexanderplatz Station, the entrance point of the Christmas Market Photos taken in December 2013

Berlin, the City that Never Sleeps. This is the one sentence that can be described about Germany’s capital. With 3.5 million inhabitants, the city is diverse in culture and history. It is full of people from different backgrounds meeting together at various bars and eateries that remain open through the night. One should not exclude various discotheks where people go dancing, and bookstores where you can buy books in the most exotic languages.  And even though it used to be divided by the Infamous Wall from 1961 to 1989, the city is considered home by many people who are either connected with the city or have moved here from all over the world, including many from the US.  So it is no wonder that Berlin’s diversity can not only be found while walking its streets (like the famous Unter den Linden), but also in the Christmas markets the city has to offer.

There are dozens of Christmas markets in and around the city, but the Files decided to focus on the main ones in the city centre Mitte, for each one, centrally located, have a different theme that makes it appealing to tourists wanting to spend time in the capital. The first stop on the Christmas Market Tour through Berlin is Alexanderplatz.

Alexanderplatz is located in the former eastern part of Berlin which was the capital of the German Democratic Republic from 1949 until German Reunification in 1990 (Berlin later became the capital of a reunified Germany when the government voted unanimously to relocate from Bonn, then the former capital of West Germany).  Alexanderplatz features a train station serving city and regional train services, two market squares straddling the tracks- one to the east at in the shopping district and the other near City Hall- and the TV-Tower, built in 1969 with a purpose to track down East Germans trying to flee to the West through the Wall. It is now the tourist attraction where people can see all of Berlin and places 30 kilometers beyond the border.

The Christmas market we’re looking at is the shopping area side of Alexanderplatz, where it is the most populous of the Christmas markets in Mitte.  How populous? In one sentence: If the market, which is 300 square meters in size is filled to a point where traffic is shoulder-to-shoulder at 5:30pm in the evening, then you do not want to know how crowded it is two to four hours later. In other words, visit this one at midday unless you are there alone at night for the colorful  lights that stream along the small huts, the Lichterbogen (Christmas arc) and the Christmas Pyramide, touted as the largest in Mitte with four floors containing different themes.

Lichterbogen (Christmas light arc)

The shopping area part of Alexanderplatz’s Christmas market is open to the public and features a wide-array of everything a person could ask for that is common for many Christmas markets in Germany. This ranges from gifts to eateries, to even beverages. Most of them are regional- meaning from Berlin and regions in the states of Brandenburg and Saxony. However you can find some exceptions, like the snowballs biscuits from Rothenburg ob der Taube in Bavaria or the famous Thuringian bratwurst (although there is the Berlin variant there.)  It is the midway point between the amusement park portion of the Christmas market located only 400 meters south of Alexanderplatz and the more cultural and homemade variant of the market on the other side of the tracks west of the station.

Yet not everything is as plain and ordinary as mentioned. Apart from the huts and other architecture being lit in various colors, they present different colors and designs that make it appealing. North of the streetcar tracks that go through the train station, most of the huts are made with typical German trusses you find on houses: white background with dark colored trusses that stick out. On the opposite end, most of the huts have a dark brown color, presenting its natural form. This is where the arc and pyramid are located. The double-decker carousel also conforms to the color code. And since the Pyramide features a shop where drinks are available, one can sit in front of the bonfire, sip on some mulled wine and enjoy the architecture that is featured at the market. And this after spending some time shopping in the Galleria Kaufhof shopping complex or even ice skating at the rink.

The market at Alexanderplatz is the largest and busiest of the Christmas markets, which explains the logic behind opening earlier than other markets (at 8:00am) and extending their season to New Year. The Christmas markets are a gathering point for family and friends, as well as a tourist attraction if you want to visit and write about them. Yet if one is encouraged to visit early in the morning and come around after Christmas to enjoy the shops as well as the food and drink, it can be a blessing and a curse at the same time. A curse because if you want to visit the place at night, you will most likely not have a chance because of the crowd. A blessing because you have a chance to see it during the times when it is not as busy. Both because you might earn that extra Euro in drinks, food and goods, but it will cost you your last nerve, especially right before Christmas, when you have very little time to do your last-minute shopping for gifts for your loved ones.

So here’s a word of advice when tackling the largest Christmas market in Mitte: stop there early and beat the rush before going to the other markets. Speaking of other markets, let’s move on to the next one, shall we?

 

POP QUIZ:

As we’re on the topic of Christmas Markets, here are a couple questions for you to answer:

1. How many Christmas markets can be found in Berlin and all of its metropolitan areas (Potsdam included)?

a. 30     b. 50      c. 70       d. 90      e. 100     f. more than 120

 

2. Of this number, which ones are open until (and through) New Year?

 

3. Look at the picture below and to the right side. What is that and who was the mastermind behind this architectural wonder? Note: This one is one of the popular places to see while at Alexanderplatz, year round.

Look at the object on the right hand side of the picture and try and answer the question.

 

The answers will come after the article about the last Christmas market documented in Berlin (could take a while to complete, by the way).

You can also view the photos of the Christmas markets in Berlin via Flensburg Files’ facebook page, which you can access here. Note that there are more pictures to come that will be posted in this album.  Please note that you can like the Files to get more coverage on the Christmas markets and other themes on German-American relations presented in this column.