Hitting the Markets (Berlin, Germany)

Back in 2008, when I was a spotty, chubby teenager doing my A-levels, I went on a school trip to Berlin with my A-level German crew. We went to 'further our command of the German language and appreciate it's cultural context'. Really, we just went to raid the Christmas markets and stuff our oily faces with Lebkuchen (sweetly-spiced bready biscuits) and wash it down with hot pints of Glühwein - mulled wine.

So we started our journey on a frosty December morning, just the four of us and our two German teachers. It was a minibus to Glasgow as Newcastle didn't do direct flights to Berlin Schönefeld. Sophie and Rebecca were asleep, Christina was still wobbling around pissed from the night before. I was wide awake. I had just received my first passport, and it was the first time I wasn't travelling on my mother's passport (which at one point was allowed!) I was very excited. I loved studying German, and this trip was going to add a bit more dimension to it. I was eager to show off my smooth German talk!

The flight was fast and uneventful as everybody snoozed. Berlin was dark, icey and bitter when we arrived. A slippy metro ride took us to our hotel in Potsdamer Platz. The place was bursting with Christmas lights as we passed through. Markets lined the streets and different festive songs were mish-mashing around each other as if they were fighting for our custom. As excited as we were to see what was to come, we had pressing issues on our mind: Zzzzzzzz. We slept hard.

We were fresh out the door the next morning to have a peep at the Berlin Wall. Some sections of this massive, concrete curtain still exist since its fall in 1990, when East and West Germany - separate countries for a while - were merged once again in an sensational reunion. A lot of the wall has disappeared since. Slabs and shards were removed, decorated, and sold to tourists around the world. Some sections have been preserved, particularly the ones which display outstanding graffiti.

We wandered along to see Checkpoint Charlie, which was only down the road. Checkpoint Charlie was the main crossing point between East Germany and West Germany many decades ago. It's kept alive today to rake in the tourists, and there's a cute museum nearby which is worth checking out. Normally I hate visiting museums when I'm abroad. I think they're usually pointless, boring and a waste of precious exploration time. Unless they're massively relevant to the whole trip - like the Louvre, barely - I don't bother. I can't think of anything worse than stumbling around a 16th-century carpet museum or something, when there are things you can be doing. You can read all about history any other time, before you embark on your trip ideally. The Checkpoint Charlie museum is definitely worth seeing though; it adds a lot of depth and even makes you appreciate the peace that the city offers today so much more.

That night we went for schnitzel and beer, and then FINALLY hit those markets. We started with the one in Potsdamer Platz. There was certainly a lot on offer!

These German gingerbread hearts are a trademark of the markets. There are usually German love messages written on in a milky icing. I just bought one for my sad, single self and attacked it with great relish.

These stood out particularly well to an almond fan! Marzipan Kartoffeln, literally, Marzipan Potatoes. They have a lurid, realistic look of potatoes when you bite into them, but they're completely made of marzipan! They're simply balls of marzipan that are lightly toasted or dusted to make the 'potato skin' jacket. I also loved Schokoladenmandelbarren - imagine chocolate rice krispie cakes, but instead of rice krispies, they're made with whole almonds! They're sold in hunky, knobbly bars. Unfortunately I didn't get a photo! But never mind, this is indeed a true haven for a nut fiend, so if you are one too, you need to arrange a pilgrimage.

It got darker and icier, so we bought in rounds of Glühwein. If you think wine gets you merry pretty quickly, it will even more so when it's heated to boiling hot!

You're usually served in these cute little mugs. You will pay about 5 euros extra for them. Don't freak out! You will get that money back as long as you return the mug to the stall when you're finished. If you decide to keep it as a memento, well then you've already paid for it! So just bag it!

We had so many runs on the glacier slide. You just pay a couple of Euros to run up to the top with a partner, jump in a giant rubber ring and go skidding down the ice. We were all pretty drunk at that point and couldn't stop laughing at asking for 'ein Fahrt'. At one point, the girls dared me to go up to an unsuspecting woman working on a stall and ask her for a 'mangina'. Don't ask... but I did it anyways!

 We were soaked with ice. We headed back to the hotel late for warm showers and thick, billowing duvets.

The next day we went across Berlin to see some other sights. The Brandenburg gate is probably the Big Ben of Berlin, so of course we had to see it and get a Christmassy photo of our little family!

We wandered along a huge main road to see Alexanderplatz, and our attention was grabbed by something pretty daft. 

Berlin has a weird thing about traffic light men. Their traffic lights have a trademark symbol for 'stop' and 'go', and apparently they're quite famous! Famous enough to warrant a gift shop dedicated entirely to these guys - die Ampelmännchen - stacked to the ceiling with complimentary merchandise. They did gummy Ampelmännchen, which were fruity, delish and I enjoyed biting their limbs off.

Moving on...

We approached the Fernsehturm, a massive TV tower that you can ride up in by elevator!

The view from the top was outstanding! We just caught it just in time for sunset. Security was very tight at the bottom; poor Sophie had her tampons inspected by security in front of the entire queue. 'Tamponen, tamponen!', we pleaded.

By the time we made it to the bottom, the night had set in and Alexanderplatz market had burst into life. Time to get our market on again!

We teetered about in our ice skates, skating around an ornate stone fountain while Hoff songs filled the air with gaseous cringe. Plenty of slips, slides and general arse-over-tit antics had become exhausting after a while, and we decided to check our the famous Gendarmenmarkt, probably the best market in Berlin!

Pathetically, those are the only two photos I took of Gendarmenmarkt! Ridiculous, I know. But never mind, I got far too drunk to take any legible pictures of anything so it's probably for best!

The rest of the night was a blur. We got to bed late, and rose early. We crammed in a few more sights and had to catch our flight that evening.

I stashed a naughty bar of Ritter Sport chocolate into my hand luggage, which I savoured under my blanket on the draughty flight home.

Berlin is very handsome! The markets do it much grace in the winter - the place changes sex almost! Without the markets, I think it would look pretty grey and depressing, a bit like the UK! I would love to visit in the summer, however. Germans seem to love Easter (Osterferien), so I imagine that would be full of chocolatey desire!

I definitely plan to go back to Germany, perhaps to the green, grassy South next time!

Hope you enjoyed the adventure!




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