An alternative guide to Christmas in Berlin

An alternative guide to Christmas in Berlin

With Berlin's festive season well and truly underway, we've compiled a sparkling selection of Christmas curiosities that just go to show you can always depend on Berlin to do things differently. Frohe Weihnachten!

Wrapped up in a special Christmas coat

Slip into a nice warm coat at Berlin's Lucia Christmas market - an art installation to keep you snug!

One of the real joys of Berlin's outdoor Christmas markets is the opportunity to huddle around a blazing fire guzzling a mug of Glühwein. And at the Scandinavian-themed 'Lucia Weihnachtsmarkt' in Prenzlauer Berg, there's a particular art to keeping the cold at bay.

Each year, visitors get to snuggle up in the Open-Air-Mantel-Heizung ('Open Air Coat Heating', above and below right), a sculpture/installation consisting of big, inviting coats hung above individual radiators with seats attached.

Lucia Christmas market, Berlin
Lucia Christmas market, Prenzlauer Berg, Berlin

Slip into one of the centrally-heated jackets, and when you're toasty enough to leave, throw a log onto the wood burner that powers the heating stations.

Even if you don't get to experience this cute antidote to chilly temperatures, the Lucia market is also famous for its 'Swedish fire torches' (Schwedenfeuer) - split logs which burn from the inside. Lovely to look at, and perfect for that nice, warm Christmassy feeling.

Lucia Scandinavian Christmas market: Kulturbrauerei, entrances in Knaackstraße 97, Sredzkistraße 1 and Schönhauser Allee 36-39, 10435 Berlin.
24 Nov to 22. Dec 2014. Opening times: Mon-Fri 3pm-10pm; Sat-Sun, 1pm-10pm

The world's wackiest Christmas windows?

Christmas window dispaly in the Galeria Kaufhof, Berlin

Frogs in fishnets perform a vigorous Can-can, googly-eyed bunnies headbang at a cuddly toy concert and a naughty monkey inflates a sheep into a bewildered, woolly balloon.

While shops worldwide deck out their windows with the cutest trappings of Christmas, at 'Galeria Kaufhof' they do things differently: since 2009 their festive offerings have featured mischievous toys wreaking absolute havoc against a backdrop of popular Berlin landmarks.

Christmas windows, Berlin
Unusual Christmas in Berlin

It's a definite break with just about every Yuletide tradition, and also one of the funniest, most addictively wacky Christmas displays you're ever likely to see. Check it out for some guaranteed seasonal cheer.

Galeria Kaufhof: Alexanderplatz 9, 10178 Berlin


Extra tip: Is there no end to the Galeria Kaufhof's fabulously bonkers Christmas offerings? This year they're also featuring a Segway-riding Santa, who'll be spending weekends scooting around the store on his two-wheeled ersatz sleigh. Cameras at the ready!

Santa on a Segway, Galeria Kaufhof, address as above. Fri 5/12/2014 to Sun 7/12/2014 and Fri 19/12/2014 to Sun 21/12/2014 from 12 midday-8pm.


Santa Paws is coming to town

A Christmas market for dogs, Berlin

Berlin's pooches are looking forward to the festive season as much as everyone - and particularly the chance to visit their very own Christmas market, where they'll get to sample all sorts of tasty treats and sniff out a gift or two that they'd love to find wrapped under the tree.

Berlin's Hundeweihnachtsmarkt (Christmas market for dogs)

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The Hundeweihnachtsmarkt (Christmas market for dogs) takes place in the leafy, dog-friendly environs of Grunewald forest, and features dozens of stalls catering to every canine need.

A Christmas market for canines, Berlin

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Doggy festive treats at the Hundeweihnachtsmarkt (Christmas market for dogs)

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From artisanal collars to cosy beds and fetching woollen jackets, it's a winter wonderland for man's best friend - and yes, owners are invited, too.

Sirius Christmas market for dogs / Hundeweihnachtsmarkt Sirius: 6-7 Dec 2014, 10am-6pm. Held in the grounds of Forsthaus Paulsborn, Hüttenweg 90, 14193 Berlin.

Christmas in a railway carriage

Christmas on rails: the Weihnachtszug or Christmas train, Berlin

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Santa isn't just a dab hand at steering a sleigh, he's a pretty good train driver, too.

And throughout December the Weihnachtszug (Christmas train) pulls into a Berlin station just as it has done since the 1920s.

The vintage carriages are decked out with pine branches and twinkly lights, seasonal goodies are served to passengers, and Santa somehow finds time to distribute gifts to all the kids on board.

Weihnachtszug or Christmas train, Berlin
Weihnachtszug or Christmas train, a holiday tradition in Berlin

The nostalgic sleigh on rails chugs through Berlin for about an hour before continuing its journey back to the North Pole. Definitely a train you won't want to miss.

Weinachtszug / Christmas train: departing from Uhlandstraße U-Bahn station on 29-30 Nov, 6-7 Dec, 13-14 Dec, 20-21 Dec 2014 at 10am, 12 midday and 2pm.

Tickets 5€ per person, bookable by calling 030 / 256 25256 (line open Mon-Fri 8am-3pm).

A markt difference

Alternative shopping in an unusual Christmas market, Berlin

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Looking for Berlin's more unusual Christmas markets?

Take two of the city's most atmospheric, little-known venues, fill them with an array of unconventional seasonal goodies, and the resulting, far-from-ordinary Weihnachtsmärkte are a definite highlight of the alternative Christmas season.

Holy.Shit.Shopping (we told you it's not traditional) offers a host of covetable, design-led merchandise in the spectacular surroundings of a former power station (below).

Kraftwerk, Berlin, a spectacular former power station

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Peruse one-of-a-kind wares to a soundtrack of beats from Berlin's DJs, and even if you're not tempted to buy, the chance to gawp at one of the city's most extraordinary spaces (it'll look prettier on the day) is well worth the entrance fee alone.

The Kaufhaus Jandorf former department store, Berlin

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Across town in Brunnenstraße, there's another opportunity to eyeball one of Berlin's least accessible locations at the Weihnachtsrodeo in the former Jandorf department store (above).

Expect a similar emphasis on arty, offbeat gift ideas, as well as in-house DJs and a de rigeur street food market alongside the more traditional Glühwein.

Alternative Christmas markets in Berlin

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As for the venue itself, this 1904 gem is one of very few surviving pre-war Berlin department stores. The interior may be atmospherically bedraggled, but it's an exceptional historic space that's well worth visiting. Great to combine a spot of secret city sightseeing with a nice big dollop of festive cheer.

Kaufhaus Jandorf historic interior, Berlin

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Holy.Shit.Shopping: 6-7 December 2014, Kraftwerk Berlin,
Köpenicker Straße 70, 10179 Berlin.
Opening times: Sat 12am-10pm; Sun 12am-8pm

Weinachtsrodeo: 13-14 and 20-21 December 2014, former Jandorf department store (Warenhaus am Weinberg), Brunnenstraße 19-21, 10119 Berlin.
Opening times: Sat 12am-8pm

Happy Swissmas

Swiss gondola in the Swissotel, Berlin

Berlin may be lacking in mountains, but you might just spot a cable car high above the heads of shoppers on the famous Kurfürstendamm.

Every winter, the Swissôtel winches an original Alpine gondola onto the terrace of its Restaurant 44 - a snug little setting for traditional Swiss cuisine, and certainly one of Berlin's more unusual dining spots.

Unusual Berlin Christmas sights: a cable car on the terrace of the Swissotel
Cable car gondola at the Swissotel Berlin during winter months

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Alpine views are obviously missing, but instead you get to gaze at the peaks and ravines of a Christmassy Berlin skyline.

A deliciously different winter experience, and probably the most fun you've ever had with a fondue.

Swissôtel Berlin / Restaurant 44: Augsburger Strasse 44, 10789 Berlin

A real, live flying Santa

Flying Santa and his reindeer in Berlin's Christmas markets

In most other cities, Santa spends the run-up to Christmas posing for photos in a tinselly grotto.

In Berlin, however, he gets to steer his sleigh high above the heads of enthralled spectators, so if you've never seen him whizzing through the sky at close proximity, grab the chance to catch a flying Father Christmas in action.

We particularly love the fact that, once he's made his dizzying descent, he somehow manages to coax his reindeer to travel backwards as he is winched into starting position gets ready for yet another take-off. Now that's what we call impressive sleighmanship.

In 2014, Flying Santa rides his sleigh daily at 4.30pm, 6.30pm and 8.30pm from the Marienkirche (St. Mary's Church) at the Berliner Weihnachtzeit market.

Berliner Weihnachtzeit Market, 10178 Berlin. Open 24/11/2014 - 28/12/2014. Closed on Christmas Eve.


Christmas cheer in a football Stadium

Annual Christmas singing at the FC Union football stadium in Berlin

It's hard to believe that a soccer stadium could fill to capacity when there's no game being played, but at FC Union Berlin's annual Christmas singalong, thousands gather to belt out festive carols and, of course, the odd football chant or two.

What began in 2003 with a group of just 89 Union supporters has snowballed in size to become one of the largest events of its kind.

A Christmas tradition at a Berlin football club - carols at the FC Union Berlin
Thousands of carol singers at FC Union, Berlin

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Complete with brass band and a local choir to help keep everyone in tune, this year the soccer club is expecting a massive, candle-waving crowd of over 27000 people. All of which adds up to the most rousing rendition of 'Oh Tannenbaum' you're ever likely to hear.

FC Union Berlin Weihnachtssingen / Christmas singalong: December 23rd 2014, 7pm, 'An der alten Försterei' stadium, An der Wuhlheide 263, 12555 Berlin

Note that, due to high levels of demand, a ticketing system is in place, with free entrance for club members and a first option to purchase extra tickets. Any remaining seats are sold on a first come, first served basis. Seated: 10€ adults and 5€ children; standing room: 5€ adults and 2,50€ children.

Having a blast on Christmas Eve

Evangelische Kirche Neu-Westend, site of a traditional Christmas concert, Berlin

The fact that the bell-tower of this Neu-Westend church looks remarkably like a Christmas tree is purely coincidental, but every year on Christmas Eve a brass band clambers up it to play a rousing selection of festive classics.

It's part of an ancient Germanic tradition known as 'Turmblasen', which dates back to a time when trumpeters were employed to play from church or town hall towers on special occasions.

And this particular gathering has become something of a Berlin tradition in its own right, attracting hundreds of music-lovers to a normally sleepy residential street.

Even if you're not around to enjoy the concert, the little-known but rather stylish post-war church is worth a visit at any time - as is the surrounding district of impressive homes and tranquil green spaces.

And if you do decide to turn up for the Turmbläser trumpeters, make sure you get there early - in the past police have had to cordon off the street due to sheer numbers of Christmas Eve revellers.

'Turmblasen' concert at Evangelische Kirche Neu-Westend: Eichenallee 47, 14050 Berlin. December 24th, 10pm-11pm

Chilling at Christmas

Swimming in a frozen lake - one of Berlin's most unusual Christmas traditions

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Here's a Berlin tradition we're definitely not thinking of adopting - on Christmas day members of the swimming club 'Berliner Seehunde' (Berlin seals) take their annual plunge in the icy Orankesee lake.

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Wearing little (or sometimes nothing) other than festive Santa hats, the intrepid swimmers gather for an invigorating frolic in freezing cold waters.

The lower the temperature, the better they love it, and although there's probably no better way to combat over-indulgent Christmas feasting, frankly, we'd far rather get some exercise simply by cheering on participants in Berlin's chilliest sport.

Berliner Seehunde Christmas Day swim: Orankesee lake, Gertrudstraße 7, 13053 Berlin

Christmas tree(t)s at Berlin zoo

An elephant munches on a Christmas tree at Berlin Zoo

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Who would have guessed that Christmas trees were a favourite snack for so many Berlin Zoo residents?

Elephants, camels, polar bears, leopards and lions all love a tasty Tannenbaum, and although they have to wait a little longer than most to enjoy their Christmas lunch, in the first week of January you'll see the animals munching on dozens of unsold pine trees donated by local vendors.

Spectacular postwar architecture in Berlin's ExRotaprint complex

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Repurposed factory spaces, Berlin: Klaus Kirsten's post-war Brutalist tower

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If the treat seems rather strange, the prickly boughs are packed with vitamin C and all kinds of other nutrients. They're fun to play with for a while, too, and zookeepers say that the strong smell of pine intrigues and attracts the animals.

Nevertheless, only the freshest, chemical-free boughs are served, and each year the Zoo has to turn down offerings that just don't make the animal consumption grade. This might be a meal of Christmas leftovers, but only the very best will do.

Berlin Zoo animals' traditional Christmas tree lunch: first week in January. Hardenbergplatz 8, 10787 Berlin

See also:
See the world without leaving Berlin
10 unique Berlin sights
Unusual places to stay in Berlin

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