Travel: A sparkling taste of Christmas in Germany's capital city of contrasts
As the snow began to fall and the sparkling lights glistened on the wooden roofs it was easy to see why thousands of people visit the continent's Christmas markets each year to add festive sparkle to the seasonal celebrations.
We were in Berlin enjoying bratwurst and warming glühwein in the bitter cold as the city’s attractions opened for the advent season.
Berlin hosts a huge number of Christmas markets, and whether you’re wanting a taste of the local food and drink, to buy a few special gifts or just to get in the Christmas spirit, you can find it all.
One of the most picturesque is held in the Gendarmenmarkt surrounded by the German and French cathedrals and Schinkel’s Concert House. Here you can enjoy the usual delicacies while watching a performance on the stage and then browse the stalls, many selling handcrafted goods under the white tented marquees.
Other markets include bustling Alexanderplatz, the Gedächtniskirche near Berlin’s Kurfürstendamm shopping street, Potsdamer Platz and at the Charlottenburg Palace. All offer many different stalls and attractions. We also visited the Lucia market, which has a more local feel where we pushed our way through the crowds of Berliners to sample the seasonal delights of a cold December evening.
Twelve months on from the terrorist attack at last year’s markets, Berlin has carried on regardless, with the city retaining a relaxed and yet festive atmosphere.
We were staying at the stylish Gorki Apartments – a collection of 34 individually-designed guest apartments and two penthouses in the Mitte area of Berlin, just yards from Rosenthaler Platz and its underground station.
Built at the beginning of the last century, it has the feel of a boutique hotel with friendly and knowledgeable staff on hand 24 hours a day but offers the privacy and living space of private apartments.
The building fell into ruin when the Berlin Wall was built and it was not until a few years ago that it was restored to its former glory and converted into apartments.
As we arrived, the courtyard Christmas trees were being decorated and we were straight away given a warm welcome and made to feel at home with a glass of mulled wine before being shown to our rooms.
Our luxurious apartment consisted of a lobby, a large bathroom with oversized bath and rainfall shower, and the bedroom and kitchenette with cooking and washing facilities. The Gorki is situated on a tree-lined street in a popular neighbourhood with bars and cafes on hand as well as being within walking distance of many of the city’s restaurants and attractions.
In between visiting the festive attractions we took time to explore the city. Germany’s capital is a city of contrasts where east meets west and old is surrounded by new.
Nearly 30 years on after its reunification, Berlin has grown, developed and been restored back into one city. You would be unaware of its past were it not for the remnants of the wall and historical reminders of how life was during the east-west division.
You can visit a few places where the Berlin Wall remains as a historical monument and try to understand how life would have been before it came down in 1989. We took a walk along its former route down Bernauer Strasse to the Berlin Wall Memorial. Here you can read stories of those who tried and often failed to escape across the border to the west.
We also visited the DDR museum where you can experience a little of everyday life in East Germany under the rule of the socialist state.
Another reminder of Germany’s 20th century history is the Holocaust Memorial which consists of 2,711 concrete slabs across a sloping 4.7-acre site.
But Berlin also has much to offer away from its sometimes difficult past. Hop on and off the tourist bus to discover Museum Island, a World Heritage Site with five museums devoted to archaeology and art, visit the Reichstag with its glass dome or enjoy a stroll through the Tiergarten.
Public transport is easy in Berlin with its underground and overground trains, as well as buses and an extensive tram system. And there are two main airports – we flew into Tegel with Flybe.
We tried to cram as much as possible into our two-day Berlin break but there is plenty that we didn’t manage to tick off and so a return trip is very likely.
Berlin is definitely worth a visit any time of the year with its history, culture and welcome, but there’s something about the aroma of bratwurst and warming feel of glühwein that makes it especially so at Christmas.
- A stay at the Gorki Apartments at Weinbergsweg, Berlin starts at â‚¬120.
- For more information or to book visit https://www.gorkiapartments.com. Flybe operates flights to Berlin-Tegel Airport from Birmingham, Cardiff and Doncaster Sheffield airports with one way fares starting from Â£34.99 including all taxes and charges.
- To book visit https://www.flybe.com
- Holiday Extras offers airport parking services and lounges at all major UK airports. To book visit https:// www.HolidayExtras.com or call 0800 1313 777.