Der Weihnachtsmarkt am Alexanderplatz

Germany does Christmas well.  Annette has tried her best over the years to transplant to New Hampshire a few of the Christmas traditions she most cherishes, such as Advent singing, Glühwein, and real candles on our Christmas tree.  But it’s not the same as being here.

Glühwein stand

Glühwein stand

During the last weekend of November, Christmas markets (Weihnachtsmärkte) sprang up all over Berlin.  In the simplest cases, these markets consist of a few huts where one can purchase mulled wine and warm snacks, with tall round tables around which to gather in the evening chill. However, most of Berlin’s Weihnachtsmärkte are much more elaborate. I noticed in early December that the local newspapers were running reviews of the dozen or so largest Weihnächtsmarkte in the city, rating them as best for kids, most romantic, best shopping opportunities, etc.

We went to our first Weihnachtsmarkt of the season a few weeks ago.  It was set up at the Gendarmenmarkt plaza, where one also finds the Berlin Konzerthaus, the French Cathedral, and the German Cathedral.  Annette was put off by our having to pay a €1 entrance fee (“I’ve never had to pay to get into a Weihnachtsmarkt!”), but the cost of admission turned out to be well worthwhile.  The numerous huts were attractively constructed and decorated, the food and drinks were good, and there were lovely handcrafts for sale.  On a central stage, six musicians dressed as angels performed Christmas instrumentals on dulcimers and harps.  Unfortunately, I neglected to bring my camera.

Several nights ago I set out with Rani and Mamta to document for this blog the Berlin Weihnachtsmarkt experience.  We considered going to the market at Potsdamer Platz, where we had seen sledding on an impressive man-made slope, and the huts were set up to mimic an aprés ski experience, but instead we decided to head for the market at Alexanderplatz.  What we found there was not what I had expected.

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Saint Martin’s Day Umzug

Saint Martin's Day

Saint Martin’s Day celebration

On the evening of November 11, Mamta took to the streets to celebrate Saint Martin’s Day — Martinstag — with her cousins. Prior to the day, I was not familiar with Saint Martin or the celebration. When I asked my sister-in-law Doreen about Saint Martin, she gave me a one-sentence summary: “He was a Roman soldier who shared his cloak — by cutting it in half — with a beggar on a cold winter evening.”  It turns out that’s not all he did, but that act of generosity is re-enacted annually in Saint Martin’s Day celebrations across Germany.

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Our hometown of Walpole, New Hampshire sets a high bar when it comes to Halloween. Many people decorate their houses, some of the parents dress up, and the village is swarming with elaborately-costumed kids. Typically I will don a simple costume and man our front porch with a mechanical skeleton that declares: “Do not be afraid!”  Most kids aren’t. One year we had so many trick-or-treaters that I ran out of candy, and had to replenish our bowl with treats that Mamta had gotten at other houses.  While I am meeting and greeting kids at the front door, Annette hosts our adult guests back in our kitchen, treating them to mulled wine and Hungarian goulash (ghoulash?) soup.

I could tell from the lack of build-up that Halloween was not going to amount to much here in Berlin.  A week ago I saw in our local office supply store a small display of plastic pumpkins and miscellaneous spooky trinkets.  When I returned there today to buy the one witch hat I had seen, the entire display was gone, replaced by Christmas decorations.  But it’s only Halloween!

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