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!

Christmas Market Tour 2011 Nr. 2: Weimar

The Statue of Goethe and Schiller at the National Theater

Weimar is one of those hidden treasures that we never know about until the first words come to mind: The Weimar Republic, the period between 1919 and 1932 where democracy was in its trying times because of hyperinflation and the rise of xenophobia, which reached its zenith when Adolf Hitler marched on Berlin and took control of the country starting his 13-year reign of terror. The name’s origin came from the fact that an assembly took place in and near the National Theater in 1919 to create the new constitution, which was passed on 11 August of that same year. The statues of Wolfgang von Goethe and Friedrich Schiller that stand in front of the theater symbolizes the meeting of the two scholars in the late 1700s.  The city is one of the most artistic in the country because of its architecture and fine arts, plus the fact that a music school and a Bauhaus University are both located there.  And lastly, an average of 2-3 million people visit the Onion Market, taking place at the end of September each year.

The signature of Weimar today that can be seen at the Christmas Market: The Onion Plait

Yet one should not forget the Christmas Market, for reasons that are stated on the Flensburg Files’ next stop on the Christmas Market tour for 2011. Weimar is located between Jena and Erfurt, both of which have large and very popular Christmas markets. Yet one should not underestimate what the town has to offer for goods that will make everyone happy. It is only a matter of 10 minutes by foot down the hill from the train station along Meyerstrasse, past various multi-cultural eateries, including El Nino (a Spanish Restaurant), a Greek specialty store, an American diner, and Subway, just to name a few. Then a couple twists and turns past the old Goethe Gymnasium and Musikschule, as well as the Atrium shopping center, plus various store-window art galleries and you will arrive at Goethe Platz- and the entrance to the market consisting of St. Nick selling Christmas trees near the post office.  While Weimar’s commerce is concentrated at or near the National Theater and Goethe Platz, most of the action is to the south and east of there, and if one believes that the Christmas market is located just at the National Theater and that is it, one is sorely mistaken.

National Theater and the Theater Square

In the past, most of the action did take place at Theaterplatz, where numerous huts, a carousel, Ferris wheel and other Midway-style places could be found. But today, most of the action can be found to the south and east of the National Theater, along the Wielandstrasse and Marktstrasse, where one can find numerous huts offering various products, some of which can be found outside Germany, like Finnish honey and specialties originating from the East. Part of the reason for the multicultural booths was in connection with the Advent Festival, which took place on the 3rd of December in all of Weimar, which featured entertainment by music groups originating from Weimar and elsewhere.  During the recent trip to Weimar with my wife and daughter, there was a vintage carousel located along Wielandstrasse which was operated by hand and the children can ride them for a small fee, while enjoying a few minutes of riding inside a relict of history which one will never see elsewhere.

The antique carousel on Wielandstrasse

With the book stores open even on weekends, one can purchase works from artists and poets who either originate from Weimar or happened to pass through, or even a tour guide to some of the most spectacular places of interest in the city, including Belvidere Palace and points of interest connected to Schiller and Goethe.
But the hottest spot on the Christmas market tour is the Market Square, located just off Marktstrasse to the southeast. While most of the booths offer traditional goods from Thuringia, including the food and the amphitheater, where most of the entertainment occurs during the market on a regular basis, the highlight of the place is the Gothic Weimar Town Hall, where building was converted into a life-size Advent Calendar with its 24 windows, one of which is open every day by the children selected at random and each one representing a theme of the day at the Christmas market. On this day, the number 11 was located on the third floor and therefore, a fire truck was needed to hoist two children selected and two firemen to the window. There, the kids who opened the window were greeted by St. Nicholas and were presented with a present for the day. What a way to make the Second Advent a memorable one. (Please refer to the Flensburg Files’ Fast Facts about Advent and Advent Calendars.)

Market Square and the Town Hall (left) masquarading as an Advent Calendar. The Pyramid Candle is on the right.

 

Kids being greeted by Santa Claus at the door to the 11th day of December

It would be a sin not to try any of the specialties at the Christmas market and therefore, at the conclusion of the tour of the Christmas market in Weimar, we tried one specialty that originates from the Medieval times, but one can easily make at home, which is “Handbrot.” It is a roll made of sourdough bread with filling inside it, namely cheese and one other ingredient, and topped with sour crème. One has to roll the sourdough out on a cookie sheet, add the filling, roll it back in, put it in the oven for 30-45 minutes and when finished, cut it up into slices. At the booth, there were three types of Handbrot one could try: cheese with ham, cheese with salami, and cheese with vegetables. And the dinner should not be complete without a cup of Met- honey wine with a high alcohol content (12%).  After two helpings and some met, we were full , but given the sites and sounds of the Christmas market, it was an afternoon worth spending in a small town of Weimar on the second Advent.

One of many booths along Wielandstrasse offering Christmas goodies from the region.

Weimar may be a small and somewhat quiet town, like Bayreuth, Bamberg and other medium-sized towns in Germany, but the city of 65,000 inhabitants is full of surprises. One should not only associate the city with its history, architecture, and the Onion Market, as they are the only characteristics of the city. There is much more to the city than meets the eye, and the Christmas market is definitely one of those surprises one will see when walking through the city during the holiday season.

Weimar had its annual Advent Festival on 3 December. Still one can see the posters and the programs around as a theme is presented every day until Christmas Eve.

 

FLENSBURG FILES’ FAST FACTS:
Advent is a big celebration in Germany as the Advent wreath, consisting of four candles and decorations resembling a Christmas wreath, is used to celebrate on each of the four Advents taking place on Sunday before Christmas. One candle is lit every Advent beginning with the first Advent until all four candles are lit on the fourth Advent, which is right before Christmas Eve. Most stores are closed on these days, leaving the huts as the main place of commerce. However, the laws regulating the store hours have been laxed over the years so that on one Sunday every month, the stores can open their doors to the customers, but these regulations vary from state to state.
Also common during this period is the Advent calendar, where there are 24 doors, each one representing a day beginning on 1 December and ending on Christmas Eve. Every morning, a door is open and a small gift appears for the taking. It is a treat especially for the children to open a gift every day in December. Weimar’s life-size Advent calendar at the District Court Building was the first one ever seen while on the Christmas market tour, yet there may be other towns that have similar calendars of that size.