Contradictorily, there’s little in this world that makes me so happy as visiting a Christmas market.
Now, I got lucky. My introduction to Christmas markets happened in Berlin, and Berlin takes its markets seriously. The official tourism website lists 84 separate markets in the city.
Eighty-four. In one city.
I saw three.
And they were all amazing.
I stumbled across the first one, in Alexanderplatz Square, completely by accident. On the way to the Brandenburg Gate, Alexanderplatz was the nearest U-bahn stop. It was a lovely surprise to climb the stairs from the station and emerge into this.
The smells and the sights and the sounds were overwhelming – in a good way – and I exchanged a look with Ron, and knew without saying a word that he felt the same way I did: that the Brandenburg Gate was going to have to wait for just a little bit.
We started to explore, looking for gifts for friends (and maybe ourselves, too) in the shops. We watched the skaters, and then the zamboni, on the ice rink. We saw artisans at work. And on more than one occasion, we followed our noses and stood drooling slightly outside of various food stalls. It was early in the day, and we were still full from breakfast, so all we bought was some honey roasted cashews for a snack. They were delicious – so delicious that I sought out a recipe when I got home, and from time to time make a batch. (Although I Canadianise them, substituting maple syrup for half the honey the recipe calls for.)
Over the course of our week in Berlin, we visited a couple of other Christmas markets – a small one down a side street, beneath a sign that simply proclaimed it a Weihnachtsmarkt, and the Gendarmenmarkt, which was larger and insanely busy.
Both were delightful in their own ways, but time and again, we were drawn back to the one in Alexanderplatz Square. Perhaps it was because the market is located near the base of the Fernsehturm, the view of which dominated the area of the city in which we spent most of our time. So it was never far from our minds.
I spent one of my best birthdays ever at the Alexanderplatz Christmas Market. We went after dark, so we could see it all lit up. Because it was my birthday, Ron said, our itinerary for the evening was entirely up to me.
I figured that, since it was freezing ass cold that night, it was the perfect time for some glühwein. (Glühwein, essentially mulled wine, is something else that Berlin introduced me to.) Since Ron doesn’t drink wine, I ordered him a grog, which I was told was rum and hot water. It turned out to be a very strong rum and hot water, as Ron’s “Wow!” and sudden coughing fit attested. I knew I shouldn’t have tried it. Ron’s a rum drinker, and he doesn’t mix weak drinks, so something powerful enough to make him cough was likely to bring me to my knees. But try it I did.
Eventually, my eyes stopped watering.
From there, we bought some more honey roasted cashews, and I asked if Ron would consider joining me on the Ferris Wheel before dinner. It’s not his kind of thing, but true to his word, the evening really was mine to plan, and he joined me in the very-much-not-heated compartment, where we huddled under blankets and shivered (well, I shivered, anyway), and looked out over the Berlin skyline.
Our timing proved to be fortuitous, as it was our last stop before dinner, and not five minutes after we were seated in the restaurant across the street, the power went out at the market, and the Ferris Wheel stopped turning. I can only imagine how chilly the passengers were by the time the power was restored.
I dearly loved Berlin’s Christmas markets, and every year, especially on my birthday, I look back at my time there with great fondness. Every year, I go online and read about this year’s markets and look at photos, and wish I could be there. Every year, I hope that one day, I’ll be able to return and be charmed by them all over again.
But this year, like so much else in the world, the pandemic means the markets are closed. It makes me sad, and not just because of no grog or glühwein or cashews or lights. Because the best part of the markets was the people. From the man who patiently explained what grog is and how to get my deposit back on the mugs, to the woman who didn’t know the word “fart” in English and with an embarrassed chuckle blew a raspberry while pointing at her bum, to the myriad of people who were tickled to be talking to some Canadians, everybody was just so nice. They were the epitome of Christmas cheer, and an embodiment of what the season is supposed to be about.
Maybe that’s why the markets captivated even a Grinch like me.