|Visitors at the Weihnachtsmarkt on Gendarmenmarkt, Berlin.|
|Ice skaters at Winterwelt on Potsdamer Platz|
Weihnachtsmärkte (Christmas Markets) are a big deal here, and clearly the highlight of the season in this city. They are essentially Christmas-themed outdoor fairs, with entertainment, handmade crafts and goods for sale, and lots and lots of food, desserts, and hot boozy drinks. There are many different markets all around the city, from Potsdamer Platz with its giant manmade snow slide to careen down on rubber sleds, to Schloss Charlottenburg which had the Charlottenburg Palace as it's dramatic backdrop, to elegant Gendarmenmarkt nestled between the beautiful French and German cathedrals.
Uncle Bernard was the first to check out a few different markets, and he swore by the one at Gendarmenmarkt. Indeed, we ended up going back to that one multiple times, because of it's superior entertainment (there was a stage on the steps of the Konzerthaus constantly occupied by carolers, ballerinas, classical musicians, comedy acts, and more), cozy layout, great selection of local vendors with handmade stuff, and fantastic food and treats. Everything was better quality than the other markets, except for one particular wood-carving shop at Potsdamer Platz which had figurines unmatched by any vendor at Gendarmenmarkt or anywhere else. But otherwise, Gendarmenmarkt was the winner.
|Gluhwein & hot chocolate on a chilly night in Charlottenburg|
|A hand carved wooden Christmas pyramid|
We took turns going to Gendarmenmarkt with Bernard so that one of us could stay and take care of Flash, who was sick at the time. Later, we did our Christmas shopping there and at Potsdamer and Alexanderplatz. And on Christmas Day, we took Rahsan's mom to the market at Schloss Charlottenburg, braving the frigid air and icy wind.
We also took Sunsong to the New National Gallery, which has been on our list of things to do for a while. We managed to see it, at last, only days before it closed for major renovations. The website now says that it will be shut for "several years". So it was good timing on our part. The museum in its old incarnation had a good (if a bit small) collection of modern and contemporary art, with the highlights (for us) being paintings by Magritte, Klee, Dali, and Richter. The building itself is quite interesting, built by Mies van der Rohe. The upper story is the entrance hall and special exhibition space, and was currently showcasing an installation of 144 stripped tree trunks, by the artist David Chipperfield. It created a very dramatic experience upon walking through the doors, and a bold contrast with the hard glass and steel of the structure. The lower story, underground, contains the permanent collection and other exhibits. The renovation will probably be a welcome improvement to these rooms - they certainly could use better lighting and more benches for sitting and appreciating the excellent works on display.
After Sunsong flew back to England, we got back to work for a few days before New Year's Eve. Berlin is famous - or perhaps infamous - for it's New Year's Eve celebrations, known as Silvester. People here are especially fond of fireworks, and even in the days leading up to the New Year, we began hearing random booms on the street. Back in California, a sound like that usually meant a gunshot and might be followed by sirens and helicopters. But here it was just the sound of 2015, incoming. It was hard not to flinch every time another one went off, though. However, it was nothing to what was waiting for us on New Year's Eve itself.
We've been fortunate to befriend a circle of expats during our first year here. They are a wonderful group, from Canada, Denmark, France, the US, and beyond. Everyone who wasn't away for the holidays got together at one friend's flat near Hermannplatz for food, drinks, laughs... and drinks. A few hours before midnight, people were already throwing fireworks randomly on to the street. But when the clock hit 12:00 AM, the city exploded. It's hard to describe the sound without comparing it to a war zone. With the windows open, it was deafening. Firecrackers were tossed out of windows at an insane rate. It was intimidating and exciting at the same time. I think if we had been down on the street there would have been lost limbs. But from four stories up, it was a quite a spectacle. It went on for most of an hour, and went we finally did go back to the street to make our way home, the sidewalks were covered in the debris of used fireworks, as thick as fallen leaves.
Life in Berlin is exciting and full of surprises, full of firsts. Our first winter here has been a mix of struggle and joy, cold but beautiful. We wouldn't trade this experience for anything.
|Photo by Flora Amalie Pedersen|
More pictures below...
|Uncle Bernard enjoying some gluhwein|
|Flash invading Bernard's sitting space (he's the black mass in the shadow)|
|Bernard took Shannon to the famous Fassbender & Rausch chocolatier in Mitte|
|This was made from chocolate|
|Also made from chocolate|
|Performers with an audience volunteer at the Gendarmenmarkt christmas market|
|Which of these doesn't belong and will kill you while you sleep?|
|This woman was weaving on a loom in her booth at the Gendarmenmarkt|
|SCHNEEBALLEN. So many schneeballen.|
|Smoking forest Santas - delightful.|
|A life size Christmas pyramid, with drinks being served from the ground level (just below the camera)|
|Everything made of chocolate!|
|Father Christmas among the crowd|
|The snow slope at Potsdamer Platz, with careening sledder|
|Glass ornaments for sale|
|A miniature Christmas village scene inside of a vintage TV|
|Rahsan, Sunsong, and Shannon at the Sony Center on Potsdamer Platz|
|Enjoying some hot food at Schloss Charlottenburg|
|The Schloss (palace)|
|Hot chocolate with Bailey's!|
|The entrance to the market at Schloss Charlottenburg|
|At the New National Gallery, among David Chipperfield's tree trunk installation|
|Cooking Christmas dinner|
|Picking a christmas tree|
|The first snowflakes of winter!|
|Snow on Hermannstrasse|
|Beautiful Berlin, blanketed in white.|