Christmas Market Tour 2013: Berlin Potsdamer Platz

Left to right: Daimler, Kohlhoff and Deutsche Bahn/ Sony Center Towers. Christmas market in the foreground. Photos taken in December 2013

Our final stop on the Christmas market tour in Berlin- Mitte is Potsdamer Platz. Located one kilometer west of Brandenburg Gate, this square is one of the most highly developed areas in Mitte, most of which being constructed in the former West Berlin.  This is the spot where several hotels were located. It was also the busiest intersection in the city prior to World War II, as roads coming from Potsdam Mitte, and other points met here. This is one of the reasons why the first traffic light in Europe was built in 1924. A replica of the light, which functions as a clock, still occupies this point to this day.  After World War II, the area was completely in ruins, only to be cut in half by the Berlin Wall, when it was built in 1961. For 28 years, Potsdamer Platz was known as “No Man’s Land,” because of the Wall, as it was over 2 km wide, and the land was barren, filled with traps, patrolmen and watch towers.  Despite it being one of the death traps, Potsdamer Platz was one of the first places to be breached, when the Berlin Wall fell on 9 November, 1989, and the gates were open, allowing many East Germans to flee to the western part of Berlin and Germany.

Construction started in 1991 to reshape the square, which included the construction of buildings that housed Daimler Corporation, German Railways and Kohlhoff, as well as the Sony Center- where the German version of the Academy Awards for Films takes place annually- and the Arkade Shopping center, which features multiple stories of shops including those underground. It proceeded at a snail’s pace not only because of the competition among designers and builders on how to reshape the square, but also the stagnation of the German economy as a result of the costs involving Reunification. Germany was in a recession for two years (1993-4), which hampered Helmut Kohl’s chances of reelection as German chancellor in 1994. He won the elections anyway for a fourth term but lost out on his fifth chance to Gerhard Schröder in 1998. When visiting Potsdamer Platz in 2000, it was still a construction zone, with much left to do.

Fast forward to the present: there are no traces left of the Berlin Wall, let alone the cranes and diggers that had dominated the scene for 15 years until 2006. Instead, we have three skyscrapers, an Entertainment Quarter which includes Sony Center, many modernized residential areas with stretches of greenery to the east. Since 2006, Potsdamer Platz has served as a regional hub for rail, subway and light rail traffic, the first being part of the North-South Axis connecting Berlin’s Hauptbahnhof with points to the south, including Südkreuz Station. In fact, when walking up the stairs from the underground stations, one will see the three skyscrapers, with the Christmas market in front of them.

Interconnected with the Christmas market at Sony Center, the main theme of the Christmas market at Potsdamer Platz is: Lights! Camera! Action!  With hundreds of thousands of lights shining in the complex, the best time to visit the market is at night, where the complex and the Sony Center is lit up, creating the oohs and aahs among those who love taking night photography while beating the crowd. One can enjoy the specialties from Austria, in particular Salzburg at the huts located in front of the Kohlhoff Tower.  Mininature skiing and ice skating are also found next to one of the Salzburger huts for children wanting to have fun in the night light. Yet most of these activities can be found in the evening for it is the best time.

One of the huts serving Salzburger Delikatesse

As far as visiting the market in daylight is concerned, not much activity is seen, for only a handful of huts serving drinks and food are open, whereas others are closed until 5pm in the evening. While it may serve as a temporary stop for business people to eat and drink something for lunch, it is an inconvenience for those wanting to beat the rush of the crowd that most likely will visit the market from 6pm on, making the visit to the market among the crowd of people difficult. Alone the market itself is the place that is open the longest, hosting the festival of lights from the end of November until right before the Day of Epiphany (January 6th)- a good strategy for businesses wanting to profit from the passers-by. Yet the customer is king, and perhaps a combination of a pair of measures could max out the profits:

1. Opening the market beginning at 3:30 or 4:00pm would provide people beating the rush with a chance to tour the lights and enjoy the specialties before the normal crowd comes around. This is during the time the sun sets and presents the photographer with a chance to photograph the lights at sundown.

2. Utilize the green space for expansion. While the green area is most likely occupied by people in the summer months as they can enjoy the breeze and the sunlight, it is also useful during the time of the Christmas market where huts could utilize the space and move the crowd away from the traffic that passes through the hub. Sometimes sacrificing the space for a month for a purpose like the Christmas market can save lives as people don’t have to worry about cars speeding past. Cooperation from residents and businesses would be key in embarking on this idea.

Overview of the Market at Potsdamer Platz in daylight. Almost desolate in the daytime, yet at night…..

Overall, while the market is a quick stop for lunch for businessmen and tourists, the Christmas Market at Potsdam is clearly a night market, for the main attraction are the lights, which bring photographers and tourists together at night. Yet one has to find the best time to see it without having to fight the crowd. Therefore, come to the place early to take advantage of what it has to offer. :-)

Photos of the Christmas market can be found here and here. Information about the history of Potsdamer Platz can be found here. Information about the Salzburger specialty foods can be found here.

 

FAST FACT POP QUIZ:

 

1. We wanted to know from you how many Christmas markets Berlin has. Without further ado: here is the answer:

109

There is a total of 109 Christmas markets in the greater Berlin area. Of which 5 are in Potsdam and 20 are located in Mitte, including the ones mentioned in the Christmas market series. If we continue with the tour of Berlin’s other Christmas market, it would take 5-8 years to visit and profile 10-15 of them. A tall order and one can only recommend the ones that are popular among people of all ages. ;-)

 

2. In connection with the Christmas Market at Alexanderplatz, have a look at the picture again on the right-hand side. Any guesses what that is?

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

 

Here’s the answer:

The Urania World Clock

The clock was developed by Erich John  in 1969 and was part of the plan to redesign Alexanderplatz, which included the construction of the TV Tower. The clock features all 24 time zones and operates dependent on the rotation of the Earth around the sun. The aluminum clock is 2 meters tall and can be seen from the light rail tracks. More information on the clock can be found here.

 

 

Christmas Market Tour 2013: Berlin City Hall

 Across the tracks from Alexanderplatz is another Christmas market with unique attractions. The Christmas market at Rote Rathaus (EN: Red City Hall) is located in the vicinity of several key attractions. It is located directly southwest of the famous TV-Tower. Once used as a spy weapon to keep track of East Germans trying to flee to West Berlin, the 1969 structure, dubbed as the tallest in Germany, is now one of the key attractions for people to see, as one can see the entire city and its suburbs for kilometers on end.  To the west of the tower is The Church of St. Mary’s, a typical German catholic church with a lot of charm. Directly west of the TV-Tower is the Fountain of Neptune, named after the Roman god of fresh water and the seas. At this spot one can ice skate around the statue during the winter months and of course the time of the Christmas market. In the spring and summer months, the fountain is in use, with its high spraying water making it attractive for tourists waiting to go up the Tower.  And lastly, to the east is the famous City Hall. Built in 1869 by Hermann Waessermann, the building was created in the form of high Italian Renaissance architecture, featuring a clock tower similar to Big Ben in London. With the exception of the Cold War period between 1950 and 1991, this popular attraction has housed the City Senate since its opening.

Church of St. Mary’s and the Fountain of Neptune

As for the market itself, despite its location in the sea of high-rise apartments along Unter den Linden, it has a feeling of small town and hominess, as the market is divided up into two parts: the smaller part which features a facade of old buildings from a small community and is enclaved  by a sea of dark mahogany huts. They all have one thing in common: they sell a variety of local and international goods, including alpaca woolen boots made of llama fur, fabrics from Peru and even merchandise in connection with the German cartoon series The Mole.  Plus there are homemade candles and ceramic ware to choose from. Even wooden products made of Ore Mountain wood can be seen at the huts as well as in the Pyramid Candle located next to the ice skating rink. In any case, locality can be found here and presents a person with a break from all the commercial items one can find at a primary Christmas market, like the one at Alexanderplatz, for example.

But apart from the huts, there are many displays that are made of wood, but resemble construction in an era where there were no saw mills. Many of these are located near the Ferris Wheel and feature a pair of mangers- one for the horses and one for displaying Baby Jesus- as well as a tent where horseback riding can be found. One can say the artwork resemble that of the time of Jesus’ birth, but that may be stretching it. Yet the Ferris Wheel, painted in a combination of blue and white is the glaring eyesore in that particular corner. Yes, one can see the entire market and all of the City Hall and the TV-Tower, yet the claim that it is the largest wheel in Germany is disputable. There is one a Janowitzbrücke that may be even larger, as well as others at the markets in other parts of Berlin that might eclipse it. When even comparing the two from the TV Tower, one can see that the one at Janowitzbrücke is bigger. But given the fact that the Ferris Wheel came from Bavaria (most likely Munich), it would not be surprising if the marketers learned a lesson on how to deceive the customer from former Prime Minister Edmund Stoiber, who stressed the importance of marriage before sex and women being the home-maker when he was involved in many scandals himself, which eventually forced him out of office in 2009.  The right to brag about the largest wheel in Germany is a classic example of the lessons learned by the likes of Stoiber, which the Bavarians still maintain a loyal devotion of his party, the Christian Socialists (CSU) today, but the counterparts in the rest of Germany have long since figured out.

Pyramid Candle made of Ore Mountain wood and the mahogany huts in the background.

But enough of the bragging and the criticism, for it was a sunny day during the visit, what time is great but to teach my five-year old daughter how to ice skate. The fortunate part of this market is despite being open later than other Christmas markets in Mitte (11:00am to be exact in comparison to 8:00am at Alexanderplatz), the market had ice skating rentals, which featured a push-penguin figure weighing over 20 kilos. A heavyweight indeed, but it served as an incentive to push the penguin on the rink and learn to skate. It worked like a charm for after awhile, the penguin was relieved and she was on her way by herself. A pair of big steps on a rink that is sparsely populated right now, but will be crowded with people in the evening. It sums up how homey the market is, when there are a few people around in the day time, taking their time in finding the best gift, drinking a hot drink, such as Apple Punch with Rum, eating fried potato chips and watching your kids grow up on the rink to become the next Kati Witt. Apart from the one at Opernpalais, this one is my highly recommended place to visit during the Christmas season. :-)

FAST FACT: The Mole is known as Krtek the little mole, which was the work of a Czech cartoonist Zdenek Miller. Created in 1957, it was common in the former East Germany until 1990 and later in Germany. The US is planning on introducing it in the toy and book market in the near future. More info can be found here.

More photos on the Christmas market at Red City Hall can be found here.

 

Christmas Market Tour 2013: Berlin- Janowitzbrücke

Not far from the heavily visited Christmas market at Alexanderplatz is the Entertainment market at Janowitzbrücke. Located on the north side of the tracks, some 300 meters away, this Christmas market provides all the fun for children who may be bored from visiting hut after hut looking for the right gift, or would rather warm up to some action instead of drinking non-alcoholic Glühwein. The market resembles an amusement park that is somewhat crammed when looking at it from a bird’s eye perspective- in this case, from the TV-Tower at Alexanderplatz. Yet looks can be deceiving and and one can bet that it is much bigger when there in person. From an author’s point of view, it is comparable to an amusement park in Iowa, located a few miles south from where I grew up in southwestern Minnesota, namely Arnold’s Park Amusement Park. Like the oldest historic landmark west of the Mississippi River, this park features a Ferris Wheel that is one of the largest in Mitte, a roller coaster that is taller than the one in Iowa, but definitely smaller, bumper cars, several carousels, and other rides to provide the kids with the ooohs and ahhs, the screams and jubilations, as well as the wildness and excitement that is worth remembering.

While located near residential areas with its typical GDR high-rise appearance, the market here is logistically located along the corridor that connects Alexanderplatz and the train station Ostbahnhof- one of five long-distance train stations serving Berlin. There, people can shop at various small shops and market huts along one side of the track, and do the rides on the other side, without having to travel by light rail from one end of the center to the other. In fact, even by foot, one can walk from Alexanderplatz to Ostbahnhof and see the sights without using public transport- this is speaking from experience as it took only 20 minutes to do that.  It serves as a bit of relief for the overfilled market at Alexanderplatz and the one at City Hall in a way that each market is designated for certain purposes. For the one at Janowitzbrücke, it was meant for fun and rides. Through this form of segregation, it not only controls the crowd, but it protects businesses profiting from this holiday season from getting trampled by the crowd, especially when some have a little too much to drink.

While we didn’t see the place in version- we were on our way to the Holy Shit! Market at Ostbahnhof, which unfortunately was closed when we got there, a bird’s eye view of the market at Janowitzbrücke provides a great insight at what one could expect when seeing it in person: fun, rides and games. And thanks to our trip up the TV-Tower, it brought back fond memories of the amusement park that I grew up with. In either case, an amusement park between the market that provides everything and the market that provides shopping is what people need to take a break from shopping and drinking, and have some fun in the process. :-)

FAST FACTS:

1. There is the real Janowitzbrücke located 400 meters from the market- a combination of light-rail stop between Alexanderplatz and Ostbahnhof, a dike and dam that is travelled on by the rail lines and a bridge that was built in the 1940s replacing an 1890s through arch bridge that was destroyed in World War II.

2. Apart from Ostbahnhof, the other four long-distance railway stations include Central (Hauptbahnhof), Südkreuz, Gesundbrunnen (in the north of Berlin) and Spandau (in the former West Berlin). Since 2006, Ostbahnhof and Spandau serve East-West Traffic, whereas Südkreuz and Gesundbrunnen serve North-South Traffic. Hauptbahnhof , located at Europaplatz west of the German parliamentary complex, is the central meeting point.

3. The Holy Shit! Market, located at Ostbahnhof, featured extravagant shopping deals giving the shopper an incentive to buy a lot and pay less. Because of the competition from the markets and stores at Alexanderplatz, this is held for one weekend only.

4. The Arnold’s Park Amusement Park is located on the southern end of West Lake Okoboji. It was originally built in 1889 and was renovated in 1988. Apart from the Ferris Wheel, it features the Classic Roller Coaster, built in 1927 and is one of 13 wooden roller coasters left in the country.

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.

 

2013 Christmas Market Tour Pop Quiz II:

The second Pop Quiz on the 2013 Christmas Market Tour in Germany takes us back to Gera, Thuringia, where the Christmas Market provides some surprises to people who drive through the city and want to spend a few hours there. As mentioned in the article (which you can find here), Gera’s Christmas Markets feature a combination of murals and statues that depict the fairy tales that were written by various German and Danish children’s writers, including the Grimm Brothers and Hans-Christen Andersen.  Take a look at the following 10 murals/statues below (with some hints accompanying them). Can you guess from which stories they come from? Place your answers in the Comments section of the Files as well as in the Files’ facebook pages. Answers will come before Christmas. Good luck! :-)

Picture 1

Picture 2 (Hint: The Giant is being challenged by a wizard- not Jack!)

Picture 3 (Hint: The title includes the name of a famous German city)

Picture 4 (Hint: Cinderella and bats do NOT get along!)

Picture 5

Picture 6 (Hei Ho! Hei Ho! Faa laaa la laa la laa!)

Picture 7 (You have to kiss many of these in order to find the prince of your dreams)

Picture 8

Picture 9 (Sorry! While Jack cut down the beanstalk and brought home dinner, he was never depicted as a statue at  the Christmas Market)

Picture 10

2013 Christmas Market Tour: Gera (Thuringia)

The Christmas Tree and the main market at the City Hall and Market Square Photos taken in November 2013

Situated along the White Elster in eastern Thuringia, one does not pay attention to the third largest city in the state known as Gera, for many reasons.  Once dubbed as the industrial hub in the former era of East Germany and formerly the capital of the district which included Jena, Greiz and Chemnitz, the city of 90,000 inhabitants had seen its days before 1989 and has since fallen into decay. The town once had a population of 140,000 at the time of German Reunification in 1990, but because of the exodus of several thousands of young people ages 35 and under combined with many older people passing on, Gera has become the German version of Detroit in the US: financially on the verge of collapse, laden with debt- partially because of the financing for the German Horticulture Show (BUGA) in 2007, facing the deepest cuts and tax increases in its history. Many condominiums dating back to the 1970s are partially empty and in disarray. And with the withdrawal of businesses and commerce, Gera has the highest unemployment rate in Thuringia and has become a magnet for Nationalist movements.

Typical East German condominiums from the 1970s still standing.

But despite its doom and gloom, there are some places in Gera that are considered hidden jewels and will most likely be the source of income to bring the city back from the brink. One of them is that the city prides itself on its fine arts, for the City Theater, which is located next to the Central Railway Station, provides entertainment for all ages.

Gera Stadttheater adjacent to the train station

 

Then there is the Christmas Market.

Located in the market square and extending down towards the river, past the Congress Center and stopping in front of the Arcaden Shopping Center, the Christmas market brings together all local specialty eateries and shops from the Vogtland region and the city itself, providing tourists with a chance to try out all the goodies during the tour which one is expected to take a couple hours to complete. From mulled beer with cherry flavoring (Glühbier) to bread filled with cheese and herbs to the traditional Thuringia bratwurst and even the potato dumplings (Klöse), there is a lot of goodies to taste at the market. One can find many arts and crafts items made locally at the booths, which includes the pine cone mistletoe (as seen in the picture below.)

But apart from the food and the souvenirs one can buy at the market, one of the main features in Gera are the fairy tales statues that can be found throughout the market. Eight different statues combined with several murals can be found, each one depicting a fairy tale written by the likes of Grimm, Andersen, etc.  They provide the children and their parents with an opportunity to guess at what they are and explain the stories are all about. The statues appear genuine, made of metal and painted by the local artists living in and around Gera. Given their life size, they almost resemble the real thing, but in frozen animation.  With as many children at the Christmas market, the city is taking major steps to making it attractive for families visiting the area. This includes having musicals available at the market square and the City Theater, the latter of which is almost always sold out.

This evening while at the market, there is the theatrical involving stuffed animals and hosted by Juri Tetzlaff, actor and moderator for the German channel KIKA, accompanied by the local symphony orchestra, which took place at the Theater. The show is sold out with every seat filled, just as any theatrical or concert that is held there. The children line up on stage to listen to his story and get involved in many of his songs and antics. Parents and other adults alike provide him with a standing ovation at the end of the story. And many kids are happy that they get to go on stage live, make themselves funny and make their parents happy.  Despite the cuts and all the social problems that Gera is facing, perhaps the mayor should take a look at the bright side of the city and engage in investments from the outside, instead of making cuts and closing down parts of the cultural district, as it is being planned. After all, there are enough jewels that can be found, which will potentially pump more money into the city, filling up the empty spaces of the city center and residential areas, and bringing people back. The Christmas market, other local events that take place annually and the theater scene are the starting points. But there are more things to discover when you have a closer look at what Gera has to offer.

The Flensburg Files has a pair of Christmas Season Quizzes in the next articles for you to try out and share with your friends. In the meantime, enjoy the photos provided by the author during his trip. More information on the city’s history can be found here.

Photos:

Congress Center and the huts lining up alongside it. The CC, which hosts many theatricals annually has recently taken a hit by the budget cuts, which has angered all of the city’s residents and supporters of the fine arts scene.

Apart from Glühbier, you can find that typical Thuringian Bratwurst at booths like this one, located near the Arcaden.

One of the murals at the Market Square part of the Christmas Market.

 

Potential for improvement in the city center.

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