Christmas in Berlin & a day in Dresden

Christmas Week in Berlin

We arrived in Berlin via an overnight train from Zurich, our second overnight train but our first time with just seats and no sleeper beds, due to the fact that a sleeper bed would have cost us 150 EUR even with our Eurail pass!! That’s more than it would have cost us to buy a seat and stay at a decent hotel for the night instead, so we sucked it up and sat in the seats. The worst thing was that we didn’t even realize that the seats could recline, so you can imagine how rough our night was. Our train reached Berlin by 8:00 am, which was a too early even for our earlier check in, so we hung out at Rubens Coffee Lounge, a nearby cafe, and got a couple pastries and large coffees for breakfast. We were drained, but that didn’t stop me from celebrating the much more affordable food prices here when compared to Switzerland.

We tucked our luggage into a corner and sat by the window, next to an older gentleman reading a newspaper with a rather needy but adorable dog who had full conversations with his human in expressive whines. There were plenty of people taking the time to enjoy their coffee, no rush to get the rest of the day started. I caught myself people watching a man sitting outside that was people watching the foot traffic down the street, amused that he seemed to know and greeted almost everyone that passed by.

A couple hours later when we were allowed to check in, we grabbed our luggages and rolled down a couple meters to a short tunnel lit by a sparkling disco ball, spinning almost imperceptibly like the aftermath of a good party, and into a courtyard that connected a lounge, a creative space, and the building our AirBnB studio was housed in. At the second to last floor across from a yoga studio, we found the apartment and let ourselves in. The space was small but functional and there were these cute illustrative signs all over to warn us about water temperature or what to do in case of a toilet emergency.

Berlin’s Greatest Convenience

Given our exhaustion, we decided to make a grocery run and then take it easy the rest of the day. We headed over to Edeka where I discovered one of the greatest conveniences of all time: there was a recycling machine in the back of the store where you could return your glass and plastic bottles and get your cash refund. We don’t have this back in the States, instead we would have to take our bottles to a special recycling plant to get our refund. In Berlin and in several other European countries you can conveniently take your bottles with you when you go shopping and get your money back, and while it’s not a lot (about 8 cents per glass bottle) it’s still something for those visiting on a budget and making their way through the local beer.

Mixed momos plate, Tibet Haus, Berlin, Germany
Mixed momos plate, Tibet Haus, Berlin, Germany

After cooking our lunch in, napping and Netflix, we head out for a short glimpse of our neighborhood and walk to Tibet Haus for dinner, because momos are a type of dumpling and dumplings are always a yes for us. The restaurant is full with richly colored walls and dim warm lighting, ah ambiance. We’re seated underneath the shelf of a shrine, next to a lively 12 person party celebrating over beers. Thank goodness for their mixed momos plate, otherwise we’d have to choose among their various dumplings. We also order a dumpling soup and an appetizer that closely resembles a thin beef empanada. It turns out to be the perfect amount for us; the veggie momos and the empanada appetizer were our favorites.

Victory Column, Tiergarten, Berlin, Germany
Victory Column, Tiergarten, Berlin, Germany

Visiting Tiergarten

Early the next day we take the S bahn to Tiergarten, a huge park that encompasses several famous monuments. The sky is blueish gray, thick with clouds. We started on the Western end, walking to the Siegessäule (Victory Column). She towered up from the middle of a roundabout; the golden Goddess of Victory bright against the gloomy sky. We followed the main road lined with bare trees; their leaves fallen onto the also bare hedges like mismatched adornments. Just before the end of the park we reached the Sowjetisches Ehrenmal im Tiergarten (Soviet War Memorial Tiergarten), where a large group gathered to take a photographs and children clambered over tanks.

Brandenburg Gate, Berlin, Germany

The edge of Tiergarten met with the Brandenburger Tor (Brandenburg Gate), now a symbol of Berlin’s unity and one of the busiest monuments. As we passed through the gate, we saw a crowd gathered around a man posing in the nude, concealed by a single colorful hat and standing atop a cart with his arms stretched out. We couldn’t understand his purpose nor the banner, but we were impressed by his tenacity given the extremely cold temperatures.

Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, Berlin, Germany
Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, Berlin, Germany

The Most Beautiful Requiem & Our First German Christmas Market

From Brandenburger Tor we make our way South towards Denkmal für die ermordeten Juden Europas (Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe), a most stunning concept for a memorial. The sight takes me by surprise, the sudden field of stone blocks surrounded by every day city buildings. There are tourists milling around, sitting on the stones or taking selfies: somehow it feels a bit desecrating. We move away from them towards the center, as we get further in, the slabs seem to grow and engulf us: gray around us and gray above us. I began to feel overwhelmed, so I turned to face a slab and studied the cracks and pores. That’s when I noticed that there were water stains running down the sides; like a window forever covered in rain, or a face forever covered in tears.

mushroom and potato wedges, Winter World on Potsdamer Platz
mushroom and potato wedges, Winter World on Potsdamer Platz

After the long walk and the emotionally draining visit to the Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, we were ready for some nourishment. A short walk further south brought us to the Potsdamer Platz Christmas Market, famous for its giant slide for snow tubing. We rounded the block until the savory smells drew us to a particular stall with giant pans of mushrooms and potato wedges, which came in a crunchy edible bowl. A couple steps away brought us to some fried to order apple fritters, dusted with powdered sugar: a perfect pick me up. We browsed the market with some mulled wine to keep our hands warm and then called it a day.

East Side Gallery, Berlin Wall

A City of Remembrance

With another full day ahead, we decide to tackle the some of the shorter yet further spread attractions so we purchase a day pass tram ticket and start of by visiting the East Side Gallery, the longest open air gallery in the world, where artists have converted the structures of division into a symbol of joy. When we arrived there were already crowds despite the drizzle. Strolling along Mühlenstraße we pondered the murals, some so intensely colored while others were stark in grays and blacks; handprints peppered one and faces spilled down others. Visiting the East Side Gallery was a very fascinating experience; a mix between the pomp of viewing paintings with the elements of reality like the wet wind and the sound of cars from the road. I admire this idea of keeping elevated amid the every day: the East Side Gallery and the Memorials to the Murdered Jews both sitting in the middle of the city so that history could remain a piece of the present.

Next we headed back towards the west, hopping off the metro near Checkpoint Charlie, taking a quick peek, amused that the checkpoint was now surrounded by American icons like McDonald’s and KFC. A quick walk took us to Topographie des Terrors (Topography of Terror), a museum housed in former Gestapo headquarters documenting the tolls and workings of Nazism. There was an incredible amount of information, mostly in the form of photographs and text, copies of Nazi documents; the whole crowd of attendees slowly snaking through the exhibits like a car rolling in neutral, wondering when it might come to a stop.

Weihnachtszauber at the Gendarmenmarkt, Berlin
Weihnachtszauber at the Gendarmenmarkt, Berlin

Best Christmas Market Shopping: Gendarmenmarkt

Following another solemn morning, we took lunch over at the Gendarmenmarkt Christmas Market. This particular market had a cover charge, but it’s definitely one you don’t want to miss if you’re looking to do some shopping. There was a whole covered indoor space for craft goods like jewelry and glass ware, lights and even a woodworking guy carving away at a large block; his wood shavings filing the tent with the perfect winter scent. It’s no surprise that Carl’s favorite Christmas Market food turned out to be flammkuchen, a German Pizza. We caught them pulling a fresh batch right out their wood fire oven and nearly burned our tongues from the rich melty cheese, watching the dough rollers throwing the dough at their window to startle passerbys. We followed that with some freshly cooked spaetzle – my very first taste of spaetzle and as a noodle gal it really hit the spot; washed it all down with some orange punch and eggnog and then headed home.

Chicken Kebap, Mustafas Gemuse Kebap, Berlin, Germany
Chicken Kebap, Mustafas Gemuse Kebap, Berlin, Germany

That evening we decided to check out the famous Mustafas Gemuse Kebap just down the street from our AirBnB. Despite the simplicity, the kebap stall had the longest line we’ve ever seen for something like kebaps: but let us assure you that they are as good as advertised. For 3.90 EUR, you can get a full meal out of a bold and flavorful chicken kebap sandwich and it’s the best you’d never expect to find at that price. However, you might have to pay in time: the line can sometimes take up to 45 minutes, like it did for us that first time. Luckily we made friends with a fellow waiting behind us, also visiting Berlin from the States. By the time we got our kebaps we were starving and simply stood right next to the stall and wolfed them down with our new friend before parting ways. Another day we lucked out and saw no line when we passed as they opened the stall, and jumped at the opportunity.

Carlienne Cooks: our Christmas stew
Carlienne Cooks: our Christmas stew

Christmas Eve and Christmas Day in Berlin

Similar to much of Europe, Christmas Eve and Day are primarily reserved for families, so much of the city closes down during those days, as well as the day after Christmas. A few of the Christmas Markets are open on one or the other day, so we tried to time our remaining markets accordingly. We visited Alexanderplatz Christmas Market on Christmas Eve, where we simply meandered with candied macadamia nuts and hot wine further spiked with liquor. After discovering a love for candied nuts, we realized there was a Turkish nut store Kumru Kuruyemis just next to our AirBnB, which sells for a much better price than at Christmas Markets. So we stocked up on some candied cashews and almonds before heading up to the studio. For dinner we stayed in to cook a couple steaks and FaceTime with our folks back at home.

The morning of Christmas Day we made chocolate pancakes for breakfast and took our time heading out to the Christmas Market at Charlottenburg Palace, which was a little more grand due to the location and our discovery of an excellent hot chocolate from a chocolatier stand. We had some fresh mini donuts drizzled in a vanilla sauce and cheesy handbrots topped with green onions while we squeezed through the crowds. We passed a couple of light angels where everyone tried to take a photo and there was a great children’s play area with lit up swings and a miniature ferris wheel. When we finished our circle we realized we started at the wrong end because there was a stall that grilled whole fillets of salmon on an impressive open fire. We went home to spend the rest of our first Christmas together away from home, cooking a beef stew flavored with my new favorite German beer: Störtebeker Schwarz-Bier.

Mittelalter-Weihnacht medieval market, Dresden, Germany
Mittelalter-Weihnacht medieval market, Dresden, Germany

A day in Dresden & a Medieval Christmas Market

Our one day stopover in Dresden was just enough to get a taste of the beautiful city. We spent the morning walking through city center, starting just outside our aparthotel and stepping out into the square in front of the Martin Luther Kirche and passing through some of the smaller Christmas markets. We walked south until we crossed the river to Brühlsche Terrasse (Brühl’s Terrace), a touristy but beautiful riverside street. All the benches were occupied outside the stunning Hochschule für Bildende Künste Dresden so we continued on through the grid of trees just beyond the Ernst Rietschel Denkmal until we reached the square in front of Residenzschloss (Dresden Castle) where there was a medieval themed Christmas Market.

The Mittelalter-Weihnacht medieval market reminded us of those Renaissance fairs back at home, but here a couple guys stood at the entrance to pierce your tickets with their spears. We circled the market to scope out the treats and settled on some giant turkey filled handbrots and another version of Flammkuchen and big puffy apple fritters, though nothing was as tasty as the ones we had in Berlin. There were fun shops selling medieval styled clothes and a blacksmith like shop that had all sorts of knives and tools. A puppet show and musical performance seemed to make this the perfect market to bring the kids, until we spotted a group of men stripping down to step into a hot tub.

Camondas Schokoladen GmbH, Dresden, Germany
Camondas Schokoladen GmbH, Dresden, Germany

After our fill of the market we headed back out to see wander the city a little longer before it got completely dark. As we turned the corner from the market, we passed Camondas Schokoladen GmbH, an awesome chocolate shop that helped to redeem my watery Christmas Market hot chocolate. The store really was set up to look like a chocolate museum, all those beautifully designed chocolate wrappers made everything look like a present. We also picked up a chocolate beer, though it was a little disappointing as it tasted more like chocolate soda then a beer. Armed with our super hot and thick chocolates, we headed back out and climbed up to the top of the walls surrounding the Zwinger courtyard and enjoyed the view of the grounds as night fell.

Zwinger, Dresden, Germany
Zwinger, Dresden, Germany

With a full day spent, we stopped at a grocery store to pick up some chicken for dinner. We cooked our dinner in the kitchenette but discovered there was no vent and with all the signs about a “sensitive smoke detector”, we decided not to risk it so I stood there vehemently fanning the smoke detector with my scarf until my shoulders got sore. Carl even walked the pan all the way out to the open window to remove the lid when it was finished cooking, but while we ate our dinner, we found Coming to America dubbed in German on the TV, which totally made Carl’s day.

Dresden, Germany
Store Display, Dresden, Germany

With a full week in Berlin we finally got to slow things down a little and catch our breath with all the traveling. Berlin is a big city so you’ll want to give yourself some time. While Germany is known for its Christmas Markets, and Berlin has quite a number – we found that most of them offered the same things and going to one or two is probably more than enough (we recommend Charlottenburg Palace or Gendarmenmarkt). Our day in Dresden left us wanting more, the Gothic style buildings were stunning and there was tons to see while just walking around. Browse our photos for inspiration or read on for more things to know before going to Berlin and other logistical information or jump down to the details on all the places we recommended.

Photo Gallery

AirBnB

“Legal Studio central KREUZBERG *Legal*”. Great little studio that served our needs for a week in Berlin during Christmastime. We were able to cook plenty of meals in (they provided plenty of the essentials and there’s an Edeka grocery just around the block) and there’s Mustafa’s across the street. Agree with all the other recent reviews and the listing description, there is definitely audible noise from the neighboring studios and the nearby club and you may want to bring some earplugs if you’re a light sleeper. We had a great time and appreciated the quick responses.

In Dresden we stayed at the Aparthotel Neumarkt, Dresden in a spacious apartment room with everything you could need. The kitchen worked but there was no vent system, so we worried about their warnings of sensitive smoke alarms and fanned the room while we cooked. Still, it was a really nice option preferable to a hotel for us who wanted use of a kitchen.

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Logistics

General

Per most of Europe, many businesses are closed Sundays and the days before and after Christmas are also variable, so plan ahead! The end of December in Germany was quite cold; we saw a bit of rain and the tiniest bit of snow Christmas Eve, but nothing ever covered the ground.

We found that most young people knew English, and unlike other countries our attempts of German were might with blank looks and impatience. However we found there were plenty of very helpful people who were willing to try their English with us.

Vaccinations: Routine Vaccinations

Mosquito problems: None while there

Problems for tattoos: None

Traveling as a woman: Standard Precautions

Getting Around in Berlin, Germany

The metro is great in Berlin and very easy to use. A single short trip is 2.80 EUR, so to save, get a day pass (7 EUR) or the 4 pack single trips (9 EUR) if you’re looking for more flexibility. Note that the Day Pass is for the day and not 24 hours, so only useful if you start early in the morning.

budgeting

Currency: 1 EUR = 1.15 USD
Tipping in Berlin is not necessary, but appreciated. Tax is already included in their pricing, so the price you see is what you pay. It isn’t uncommon to round up though.

Credit cards are accepted though some smaller businesses like food stands or cafes and especially Christmas Markets only accept cash. You can return bottles for cash in grocery stores like Edeka, which make sampling beer pretty affordable!

Daily Budget

$60-70/person: This was for 7 evenings in Berlin in a private AirBnB studio and 1 night in Dresden at an aparthotel. We cooked most of our meals in, ate out a few times and visited the Christmas Markets. We primarily used the metro and walked when we could.

Some typical costs

  • Christmas Market foods: 4-8 EUR
  • Dinner at Tibetan Haus: 23 EUR
  • Chicken Kebap from Mustafas Gemuse Kebap: 3.90 EUR
  • AirBnB private studio: $57/night
  • Aparthotel in Dresden: $80/night

details

Tiergarten, Free – large park housing a number of memorials: Soviet War Memorial Tiergarten and Victory Column.

Checkpoint Charlie, berlin.de/sehenswuerdigkeiten/3560059-3558930-checkpoint-charlie.html, Friedrichstraße 43-45, Free – Not much to see here, surrounded by American fast food and souvenir shops

East Side Gallery, eastsidegallery-berlin.com, Mühlenstraße 3-100, Free – Remnants of the Berlin Wall painted over with symbols of joy for the reunification of Berlin

Brandenburg Gate, berlin.de/sehenswuerdigkeiten/3560266-3558930-brandenburger-tor.html, Pariser Platz, Free – Most famous and busy German memorial, also symbolizing Berlin’s unity.

Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe, stiftung-denkmal.de/denkmaeler/denkmal-fuer-die-ermordeten-juden-europas.html, Cora-Berliner-Straße 1, Free – Most famous and busy German memorial, also symbolizing Berlin’s unity.

Topography of Terror, topographie.de, Niederkirchnerstraße 8, Free – Gets pretty crowded and it’s a lot of reading and photos, so it can take a while.

Curry 36 (Mehringdamm), curry36.de, Mehringdamm 36, $ – Chain of Berlin’s signature Currywurst, but we didn’t find it particularly special.

Mustafas Gemuse Kebap, mustafas.de, Mehringdamm 32, $ – Famous kebap stall in Berlin. Super tasty and the best meal you can buy at less than 4 EUR. There’s almost always a long wait unless you go right when they open.

Tibet Haus, facebook.com/TibetHausRestaurantBerlin, Zossener Str. 19, $-$$ – Great momos and friendly service.

Rubens Coffee Lounge, rubens-coffee-lounge.de, Mehringdamm 65, $ – Cozy cafe and good spot to get a large latte.

Kumru Kuruyemis, Mehringdamm 63, $ – great place to get candied nuts and other Turkish treats.

Camondas Schokoladen GmbH, camondas.de, Mehringdamm 32, $ – Famous kebap stall in Berlin. Super tasty and the best meal you can buy at less than 4 EUR. There’s almost always a long wait unless you go right when they open.

Zwinger, der-dresdner-zwinger.de/de/startseite, Sophienstraße – it’s free walk the grounds and climb up to the wall for the view, definitely recommended!

Brühlsche Terrasse, dresden.de/de/tourismus/sehen/sehenswuerdigkeiten/altstadt/bruehlsche-terrasse-und-festung-dresden.php, Georg-Treu-Platz 1, Free – Beautiful riverside street that stretches from the University to the Opera House.

Berlin Christmas Markets

Weihnachtszauber at the Gendarmenmarkt, – only market we went to with a cover charge. Best market for shopping, try some flammkuchen (German Pizza), fresh spaetzle & orange punch!

Winter World on Potsdamer Platz, – famous for the ice slide. Try the mushroom and potato wedge bowl and some cinnamon apple fritters!

Christmas Market at Charlottenburg Palace, – beautiful palace grounds, there’s a great kids play area. There’s a salmon grilling spot, fresh mini donuts, handbrots and an excellent hot chocolate from a chocolate stall.

Alexanderplatz Christmas Market, – Typical market, compared to others we didn’t find this market particularly special.

Dresden Christmas Market

Mittelalter-Weihnacht medieval market, – A medieval themed market in the Dresden’s Royal Palace courtyard. There’s a cover of 4 EUR per adult. It’s not very big but there’s an entertainment program fun for kids and adults alike. There was also a hot tub that we saw some men go in al natural.

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