Christmas in Berlin

Posted On December 17, 2006

Filed under Travel Europe

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A curious mix of old and new, Berlin may not be as conventionally beautiful as its European neighbours, but it’s all the more fascinating because of it. Following the Second World War, the Cold War and the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, the city has undergone major construction and reorganisation. As it continues to change, the distinction between the east and west is blurred, but while you may not always know on which side of the former wall you are standing, you’re guaranteed to be within easy reach of fascinating museums, imposing architecture and lively bars and restaurants.

Before you go brush up on vocabulary. Plenty of Germans speak English, but it’s still a little embarrassing when the words for ‘room’, ‘the bill, please’ and ‘excuse me’ fail you. Time Out Berlin has a useful vocabulary section as well as lots of helpful recommendations and maps.

When to go. Nobody does Christmas and New Year, known as Silvester, quite like the Germans, so head there to see the city at its most festive. Browse the 140 market stalls lining Unter den Linden, Berlin’s celebrated main boulevard, which sell everything from gingerbread to carved wooden toys.

Planes, trains and automobiles > Easyjet (www.easyjet.com) flies to Berlin Schoenefeld.

Getting around > If you are doing most of your sightseeing in the centre, it’s better to do it on foot, taking frequent coffee stops. The buses and tram lines can be confusing, but if you end up miles from where you began, just hop on the S or U-bahn railway system, a single ticket is euro 2.10, or a day ticket is euro 5.80.

Tourist trail > Berlin is a sprawling city. Conveniently, though, a cluster of must-sees lie a five-minute walk from the Brandenburg Gate, at the western end of Unter den Linden. Climb the dome within the Reichstag for great views, go first or last thing to avoid queues, and walk to the controversial memorial to victims of the Holocaust, a field of concrete slabs. The magnificent Bode Museum, which opened in October after a six-year restoration and now exhibits 1,700 sculptures, should also be on your list.

If you have time, leave the city centre to walk along the remaining sections of the Berlin Wall. It’s a sobering experience that takes you past watchtowers, swathes of communist towerblocks in what was East Berlin, and gravestones marking both victims of air-raids and the 18th-century tombs of Prussian generals.

Go native > Head to the bohemian quarter of Prenzlauer Berg, where the Sunday flea-market in the Mauerpark is packed with locals perusing stalls of clothes, CDs and knick-knacks. In the nearby bars you’ll find a young student crowd drinking coffee and smoking on sagging sofas.

Nightlife > Berlin’s nightlife is legendary. The Newton Bar, at 56 Charlottenstrasse (00 49 30 20 29 54 21; www.newton-bar.de), is expensive and busy, but very hip, and does great cocktails. Check out Kaffee Burger, in Mitte, which hosts everything from poetry readings to samba, its disco stays open until dawn, and Quasimodo, one of Berlin’s oldest and greatest jazz venues.

What to buy > Wooden toys, a German speciality, and stuffed toys such as Steiff teddy bears. Head to Charlottenburg for individual fashion labels and quirky boutiques along the tree-lined shopping boulevard Kurfurstendamm. Here you should also check out the food hall on the sixth floor of KaDeWe, the largest department store in continental Europe.

Where to stay > Situated in the Mitte area of Berlin, Rocco Forte’s newly opened Hotel de Rome (www.hotelderome.com, 00 49 30 460 60 90) is the place to be seen. Overlooking the Bebelplatz, where the Nazis used to burn books, and surrounded by the Opera-house and University, it boasts an exceptional spa. The cocktail bar is also worth a visit for its live music and mojitos, even if you’re not a hotel guest. Double rooms start from €250.

Where to eat > Snack on the hoof with a plate of currywurst, sausages with curry sauce, from any of the street vendors in Mitte, washed down with a cup of mulled wine. In the evening, Mitte has a number of lively restaurants, Brochardt (Franzosische Strasse 47) serves excellent oysters, steaks and veal. For an atmospheric beer, head to the Assel bar (Oranienburger Strasse 21), the greenery hanging above the door is filled with chirruping birds and there is candlelit seating on the pavement, while the interior is a maze of low-ceilinged rooms. Can you drink the water? Yes, although glühwein will do more to revive the spirits.

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