Thursday, 31 December 2015

Bratwursts in Berlin: Top Tips at Christmas

This Christmas, I spent my first ever holiday season away from home in Berlin, Germany.

'Berlin Christmas Market' - market at Alexanderplatz with the TV tower 'Fernsehturm' in the background

Together with my boyfriend and his siblings, we decided to venture abroad to celebrate Christmas amongst the famous markets in Berlin. But let's get some basic facts first.

What language is spoken there?
German; however, English is widely spoken, signs and menus are usually in both and most locals speak really good English.

What is the currency?
Euros. At the moment it's around 1.3 Euros to the pound. 

How do I get around?
Getting around is really easy with the U-Bahn (underground), S-Bahn (local trains), buses and trams. Taxis are pretty cheap in comparison to London prices and you can get them even cheaper when booking with Uber which operates in the city.

Local culture
German culture is pretty much the same as most of Europe. Local food you should try will of course be the famous German sausages - wursts. Excellent in a bun from the market (Bratwurst) or smothered in sweet tomato sauce (Currywurst). Wash down with half a litre of good beer (I recommend the Berliner Pilsner), or a Gluhwein in the winter (mulled wine).

Where did we stay?
We chose to stay at Adina Apartments - a chain of Australian hotel apartments who have several branches through Berlin. This proved to be a really good choice as the apartments had small kitchen facilities (hob, microwave, kettle), which allowed us to cook for ourselves when it was more difficult to find places to eat (like on Christmas Eve). The rooms were very spacious and there was a jacuzzi and sauna available for us to use. The only downside is that we would've had to pay to use WiFi in our rooms although on the whole, the hotel was very good value for money in a really central location.


When planning our trip what concerned me the most was how much there would be to do around Christmas Eve, Christmas Day and Boxing Day. I read on several forums, as well as from many locals, that Germans celebrate Christmas more on the 24th rather than 25th like us. 
Generally however, the holidays didn't affect our activities too much. On Christmas Eve, a lot of shops, attractions and restaurants did shut, but mostly after 2pm and there was still plenty of restaurants open after then and plenty of pubs and clubs open later on into the night. From the 25th onwards, most things were back open again!

So what did we get up to?


Christmas Markets


There are countless markets to visit in Berlin including: Alexanderplatz, Potsdamer Platz, Gendarmenmarkt, Charlottenburg Castle (there are over 50 to explore!)

Our hotel being right by Alexanderplatz, we visited that one many times for a Gluhwein, beers, bratwursts and crepes.

Not only was there plenty of delicious food to try, lots of cool trinkets, gifts and souvenirs to buy - my favourite was the brightly coloured German lanterns and fairy lights. And if you're up for a bit of ice skating or a carousel before settling down for a bier the market at Alexanderplatz has everything for you; it really got us in the Christmas spirit. 

The Gendarmenmarkt is set in a beautiful square in the historic centre of Berlin - Mitte. We explored the square on Christmas eve when most things were shut, but on any other day it is bustling, although you do have to cough up one Euro to explore the market itself. 


Christmas Market at Alexanderplatz


The Berlin Wall


The most famous attraction to Berlin - the wall that split Berlin in half which stood from 1961-1989, dividing West Germany from the German Democratic Republic (GDR) in order to stop the mass exodus from the soviet east to western Europe.  

The majority of the wall has been demolished since 1989 but you can still visit areas where the sections of the wall still stands or where it is commemorated. 

The place where a substantial part of the wall remains is at the East Side Gallery - where you can explore either side of the wall and admire your favourite mural or section of graffiti. It is minutes from Ostbaunhauf  or Warschauer stations.


There were actually 2 walls that ran parallel to each other, with a 'death strip' between which was filled with barbed wire, trenches, bunkers, dogs and watch towers with guards who would shoot to kill if you were caught trying to cross the border. An area that was famously inside the death strip (a no-man's land) was the Brandenburg gate. This historical gate was inaccessible to each side of Germany and when the border was opened, there is a famous picture of the people of Berlin standing a top the wall at this site. There isn't any remainder of the wall around the gate, but the gate itself is well worth a visit. 

There are small segments of the wall displayed at Potsdamer Platz - an area that was also inside the death strip. The area is therefore full of new high-rise buildings and office blocks as well as the Sony Centre, housing restaurants and a cinema. 

Checkpoint Charlie

The crossing between either sides of the wall - this checkpoint became a symbol of the 'iron curtain' that separating east and west Europe during the Cold War. 

Where the wall used to stand there is a line of cobblestones and a copy of the original guardhouse and checkpoint sign is in place (as well as the addition of a MacDonalds!).

There is a museum Haus am Checkpoint Charlie, which is surprisingly bigger on the inside than what you expect from the outside. It's a very informative museum with lots of read and it was open until 10pm on Christmas Eve when we went!




Fernsehturm


The tallest building in Berlin, the TV tower looms over Alexanderplatz and you can see the tower from pretty much any point in the city. 

We went up the tower on Christmas Day for our festive meal. The restaurant was pretty similar to when I went up the BT tower in London. The service was pretty slow, but the food was amazing!

When you book at the restaurant, you still need to pay the 13 Euros (for adults) to get up to the top of the tower, but you get to skip the queue for tickets (which can be over an hour at peak times!). The restaurant rotates around at the top so you get a 360 degree view of the city. We went up around 3.30pm so we could view the city in the daylight as well as at night-time. 

To see more, see their website

Museumsinsel


Museum Island in Mitte has 5 internationally renowned museums and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. You can buy a combined ticket for all 5 museums, or if you only want to go to want you can buy a single ticket (although there's only around 6 Euros difference). The museums are:
  1. Altes (Old) Museum
  2. Neues (New) Museum
  3. Alte Nationalgalerie (Old National Gallery)
  4. Bode Museum
  5. Pergamon Museum
We only visited the Neues Museum and saw the famous bust of the Egyptian Queen Nefertiti. Avoid the queues especially at the Pergamon Museum by getting there early - you could definitely spend an entire day there!


The National Gallery and Neues Museum at sunset

There was so much to see and do in Berlin; as well as the above we visited the Berlin Dungeon (although the London version is still the best), the Reichstag (the Berlin parliament building) as well as the haunting memorial to the Jews killed in the Holocaust.

Holocaust Memorial

Overall we spent just over 4 days in Berlin and although when reading through this post it looks like we crammed in a lot in those days, we still had plenty of chill out time (and recovering from a few nights out as well). What struck me is how London-like the city is, but just on a bigger and more spread out scale. I would definitely recommend it for a short break away in Europe, even if it's not Christmas time!



Have you been to Berlin? Been to any of the attractions I went to? Let me know in the comments below!





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