With the hustle and bustle of holiday planning, shopping, wrapping, cooking, and decorating, it's not surprising so many people lose their holiday cheer before the Thanksgiving turkey has even been carved. However, if you're looking to reconnect with that elusive holiday spirit this December, Berlin is the perfect place, as the city overflows with the magic of the season at prices that still allow plenty of room for shopping.
WinterMagic, the festival running through early January and now in its third year, transforms the city during the holiday season with thousands of sparkling lights and festive decorations. Christmas markets and winter activities keep visitors happily entertained, while many of the hotels throughout the city offer holiday packages that help make spirits and bank accounts bright.
Most visitors who travel to the German capital in the colder months come not only for the festivities, but also for the shopping. There are nearly 60 winter markets located throughout the city, offering everything from carved ivory to warm chestnuts. Most are open every day from late November through January 1, but several are only open for the weekends or close right after Christmas. Some of the markets may charge an entrance fee, but it's a small price to pay for what's inside.
One of the more popular markets, the Christmas Magic Gendarme Market (WeihnachtsZauber Gendearmenmarkt), is located in a picturesque square, set among a backdrop of historical buildings and a glowing Christmas tree. Fire dancers, clowns, acrobats, and fairy-tale narrators are only a few of the performers visitors might see among the white-domed tents in the square. Santa Claus will also make appearances throughout the month.
The Spandau Christmas Market, celebrating its 33rd year, is located in the historic city center. More than 200 merchants gather to sell crafts and holiday treats during the week, while another 200 join in over the weekend, making it one of the largest markets in Europe. Guests can enjoy the sights of bright decorations, the sounds of choirs singing carols, and the smells of roasting chestnuts and mulled wine.
For those who may want to get away from shopping, the Winter World (in German only) at the Potsdamer Platz, gives visitors a chance to ride Europe's biggest toboggan run at 12 meters high and 70 meters long. Berlin on Ice (in German only), a 700 square-meter outdoor rink located at the Bebelplatz, offers ice skating and curling along with great views of the vibrantly decorated city. Many other holiday activities are happening all over the city.
Restaurants are also getting into the swing of things as part of the "WinterMagic" culinary events, offering special fixed price menus (many include drinks) ranging from €10 to €40 (about $13 to $53 U.S dollars; please visit XE.com for current exchange rates). Restaurant guides can be found at any of the Berlin Info stores, or online (in German only).
"WinterMagic" extends past the decorations, food, and markets to include the city's hotels, many of which are offering package deals. For instance, the Hotel Gates has a two-night stay package, with a private tour of the festive Ku'damm boulevard, a visit to one of the Christmas markets, mulled wine, breakfast buffet, and much more, starting at €112 (about $147).
Many people forego the pre-Christmas shopping and wait to visit Berlin for the New Year's Eve celebrations. Some of the Christmas markets will still be open, and hotels are offering different package deals. Guests can count down the last seconds of 2006 at one of the many events happening throughout the city, several of which are included in the package prices.
Whether you go before Christmas or for New Year's Eve, Berlin is an ideal place to shop and enjoy the magic of the holidays at prices even Ebenezer Scrooge would appreciate.