Berlin 24/7: Looking for the Christmas spirit in the city
It's a yearly ritual: Berlin turns into a giant Christmas market a month before the year's end. Yet the anniversary of last year's tragic terror attack is dampening the festive mood, says DW's columnist Gero Schliess.
Two headlines caught my attention recently: a massive brawl in front of a snack stand and massive layoffs at Siemens. Hallelujah! Is that how heartwarming Christmas stories go in Berlin?
While Christmas trees are being set up and Christmas markets are warming up their barrels of mulled wine across the city, the merry atmosphere hasn't reached everyone yet. Pre-Christmas calm and peace? Frighteningly few Berliners care about it, based on what I read in newspapers every day.
For example, the bunch of 50 young people who got into a fight in front of a fast food stand in east Berlin district of Marzahn. According to police reports, they had knives and tear gas with them. Gingerbread and egg nog definitely weren't on their minds.
The rich and currently extremely successful German conglomerate Siemens also didn't get the Christmas spirit right when it sent its elves to the capital. Were they there to offer early year's end bonuses? No, they announced 870 job cuts instead. The fired employees will be demonstrating on the streets instead of doing their Christmas shopping this year.
O, how joyful? For some people in Berlin, this Christmas carol just stays stuck in the throat.
This is what's going through my mind as I walk around Berlin at night, along the brightly decorated areas of the city such as Ku'damm. I just can't quite get into the Christmas spirit of peace and comfort. Other Berliners feel the same way.
There's a least one reason why everyone in Berlin shares a feeling of melancholy. This year, everything is different: December 19 marks the first anniversary of the terror attack on the Breitscheidplatz Christmas Market, right by the Memorial Church, when Anis Ami drove a truck into the crowd there, killing 12 people.
I don't find it easy to go back there this year. There will be a memorial for the victims. At the recent opening of the Christmas market, Berlin's mayor was also there to hearten citizens.
But the fear can hit anyone, anytime, even now. And I wonder what's bigger: the lump I'm feeling in my throat or the concrete barriers set up around the Christmas market. They could have stopped Amri's truck last year.
Kerstin Pham set up her stand, "Magentix Wellness," on the exact location of last year's attack. Pham told me she deliberately chose the spot, as she believes in the power of positive thoughts to counter fear.
That's what I like about Berliners. They are strong and aren't easily intimidated. Like me, they are ready to defy their pre-Christmas sadness.
Along the way, I unexpectedly find an ally: an older Berliner, whose handwritten search notice was posted by someone on Facebook and has since reached and moved several thousands of people: "Where can a lonely pensioner and widower find a small group to celebrate Christmas with this year?"
He received several offers and now has plans for this year's celebrations.
So it finally did come: The elderly man will get his Christmas miracle, and Berlin now has its heartwarming story.
Despite last year's terrorist attack claiming 12 lives, Berlin's Breitscheidplatz Christmas market is held as usual, with tightened security. Running through January 7, it will however be closed on December 19, 2017 — the anniversary of the attack. On this day, there will be commemoration ceremonies for the victims.
The Baroque palace in Charlottenburg will serve as a magical setting for a Christmas market that focuses more on quality than quantity. Around 250 international suppliers create an attractive combination of culinary delights and gift-buying opportunities, with the illuminated palace and its park as a backdrop.
During every weekend of December, arts and crafts workshops are held on this former knight's estate in southwestern Berlin. In addition to spinning and weaving courses, there is also barrel painting, a pottery and a gilding workshop. Carriage and tractor rides are also offered, depending on the weather.
Old town in Spandau
The 44-year-old traditional Christmas market in the historic part of Spandau is the largest in Berlin. Its program includes daily on-stage events. Wednesdays are always family days: Santa listens to the children's wishes and sings with them.
The "Winter World" at Potsdamer Platz is always the first to get going. It opens in early November and runs through New Year's Day. One of the attractions here is Europe's largest mobile snow tubing run. Visitors can also go ice skating or curling there.
The historical center of the city is a bit more elegant. Between the German and the French cathedrals, well-known restaurants and chefs have set up stands to celebrate "Christmas magic." Here you can find almost everything, from champagne to Christmas burgers. A large heated tent is also there to warm everyone up.
Mulled wine, roasted almonds and handicrafts are also on sale outside the Rotes Rathaus, Berlin's town hall. In addition, the Christmas market at the Rotes Rathaus offers ice skating on a circular temporary ice rink around the Neptune Fountain, which dates back to 1891.
This former brewery complex in Berlin's district of Prenzlauer Berg is a popular venue for entertainment and the arts all year long, with its theater, cinemas and concert halls. In the winter, the Lucia Christmas market, inspired by Nordic traditions, adds a Scandinavian touch, with rides for the kids, handicrafts and tasty Swedish ginger snaps.
Christmas is celebrated with traditional charm on the site of a former train repair station known as the RAW in Friedrichshain. Between the 150-year-old factory buildings, jugglers and acrobats perform their tricks, accompanied by medieval music. In addition to sweet and hearty food and hot drinks, you can also enjoy archery and crossbow shooting.
Holy Shit Shopping
On the third Advent weekend, on December 16 and 17, a somewhat different Christmas market will take place in Alt-Treptow. The focus here is art and design. This year's venue is the 6,500-square-meter arena directly on the Spree River. More than 300 young designers and artists present a mixture of fashion, jewelry, furniture, photography, literature and delicacies.