Christmas Market Tour 2013: Berlin Potsdamer Platz

Left to right: Daimler, Kohlhoff and Deutsche Bahn/ Sony Center Towers. Christmas market in the foreground. Photos taken in December 2013

Our final stop on the Christmas market tour in Berlin- Mitte is Potsdamer Platz. Located one kilometer west of Brandenburg Gate, this square is one of the most highly developed areas in Mitte, most of which being constructed in the former West Berlin.  This is the spot where several hotels were located. It was also the busiest intersection in the city prior to World War II, as roads coming from Potsdam Mitte, and other points met here. This is one of the reasons why the first traffic light in Europe was built in 1924. A replica of the light, which functions as a clock, still occupies this point to this day.  After World War II, the area was completely in ruins, only to be cut in half by the Berlin Wall, when it was built in 1961. For 28 years, Potsdamer Platz was known as “No Man’s Land,” because of the Wall, as it was over 2 km wide, and the land was barren, filled with traps, patrolmen and watch towers.  Despite it being one of the death traps, Potsdamer Platz was one of the first places to be breached, when the Berlin Wall fell on 9 November, 1989, and the gates were open, allowing many East Germans to flee to the western part of Berlin and Germany.

Construction started in 1991 to reshape the square, which included the construction of buildings that housed Daimler Corporation, German Railways and Kohlhoff, as well as the Sony Center- where the German version of the Academy Awards for Films takes place annually- and the Arkade Shopping center, which features multiple stories of shops including those underground. It proceeded at a snail’s pace not only because of the competition among designers and builders on how to reshape the square, but also the stagnation of the German economy as a result of the costs involving Reunification. Germany was in a recession for two years (1993-4), which hampered Helmut Kohl’s chances of reelection as German chancellor in 1994. He won the elections anyway for a fourth term but lost out on his fifth chance to Gerhard Schröder in 1998. When visiting Potsdamer Platz in 2000, it was still a construction zone, with much left to do.

Fast forward to the present: there are no traces left of the Berlin Wall, let alone the cranes and diggers that had dominated the scene for 15 years until 2006. Instead, we have three skyscrapers, an Entertainment Quarter which includes Sony Center, many modernized residential areas with stretches of greenery to the east. Since 2006, Potsdamer Platz has served as a regional hub for rail, subway and light rail traffic, the first being part of the North-South Axis connecting Berlin’s Hauptbahnhof with points to the south, including Südkreuz Station. In fact, when walking up the stairs from the underground stations, one will see the three skyscrapers, with the Christmas market in front of them.

Interconnected with the Christmas market at Sony Center, the main theme of the Christmas market at Potsdamer Platz is: Lights! Camera! Action!  With hundreds of thousands of lights shining in the complex, the best time to visit the market is at night, where the complex and the Sony Center is lit up, creating the oohs and aahs among those who love taking night photography while beating the crowd. One can enjoy the specialties from Austria, in particular Salzburg at the huts located in front of the Kohlhoff Tower.  Mininature skiing and ice skating are also found next to one of the Salzburger huts for children wanting to have fun in the night light. Yet most of these activities can be found in the evening for it is the best time.

One of the huts serving Salzburger Delikatesse

As far as visiting the market in daylight is concerned, not much activity is seen, for only a handful of huts serving drinks and food are open, whereas others are closed until 5pm in the evening. While it may serve as a temporary stop for business people to eat and drink something for lunch, it is an inconvenience for those wanting to beat the rush of the crowd that most likely will visit the market from 6pm on, making the visit to the market among the crowd of people difficult. Alone the market itself is the place that is open the longest, hosting the festival of lights from the end of November until right before the Day of Epiphany (January 6th)- a good strategy for businesses wanting to profit from the passers-by. Yet the customer is king, and perhaps a combination of a pair of measures could max out the profits:

1. Opening the market beginning at 3:30 or 4:00pm would provide people beating the rush with a chance to tour the lights and enjoy the specialties before the normal crowd comes around. This is during the time the sun sets and presents the photographer with a chance to photograph the lights at sundown.

2. Utilize the green space for expansion. While the green area is most likely occupied by people in the summer months as they can enjoy the breeze and the sunlight, it is also useful during the time of the Christmas market where huts could utilize the space and move the crowd away from the traffic that passes through the hub. Sometimes sacrificing the space for a month for a purpose like the Christmas market can save lives as people don’t have to worry about cars speeding past. Cooperation from residents and businesses would be key in embarking on this idea.

Overview of the Market at Potsdamer Platz in daylight. Almost desolate in the daytime, yet at night…..

Overall, while the market is a quick stop for lunch for businessmen and tourists, the Christmas Market at Potsdam is clearly a night market, for the main attraction are the lights, which bring photographers and tourists together at night. Yet one has to find the best time to see it without having to fight the crowd. Therefore, come to the place early to take advantage of what it has to offer. 🙂

Photos of the Christmas market can be found here and here. Information about the history of Potsdamer Platz can be found here. Information about the Salzburger specialty foods can be found here.

 

FAST FACT POP QUIZ:

 

1. We wanted to know from you how many Christmas markets Berlin has. Without further ado: here is the answer:

109

There is a total of 109 Christmas markets in the greater Berlin area. Of which 5 are in Potsdam and 20 are located in Mitte, including the ones mentioned in the Christmas market series. If we continue with the tour of Berlin’s other Christmas market, it would take 5-8 years to visit and profile 10-15 of them. A tall order and one can only recommend the ones that are popular among people of all ages. 😉

 

2. In connection with the Christmas Market at Alexanderplatz, have a look at the picture again on the right-hand side. Any guesses what that is?

Look at the object on the right hand side of the picture and try and answer the question.

 

Here’s the answer:

The Urania World Clock

The clock was developed by Erich John  in 1969 and was part of the plan to redesign Alexanderplatz, which included the construction of the TV Tower. The clock features all 24 time zones and operates dependent on the rotation of the Earth around the sun. The aluminum clock is 2 meters tall and can be seen from the light rail tracks. More information on the clock can be found here.

 

 

Christmas Market Tour 2013: Berlin City Hall

 Across the tracks from Alexanderplatz is another Christmas market with unique attractions. The Christmas market at Rote Rathaus (EN: Red City Hall) is located in the vicinity of several key attractions. It is located directly southwest of the famous TV-Tower. Once used as a spy weapon to keep track of East Germans trying to flee to West Berlin, the 1969 structure, dubbed as the tallest in Germany, is now one of the key attractions for people to see, as one can see the entire city and its suburbs for kilometers on end.  To the west of the tower is The Church of St. Mary’s, a typical German catholic church with a lot of charm. Directly west of the TV-Tower is the Fountain of Neptune, named after the Roman god of fresh water and the seas. At this spot one can ice skate around the statue during the winter months and of course the time of the Christmas market. In the spring and summer months, the fountain is in use, with its high spraying water making it attractive for tourists waiting to go up the Tower.  And lastly, to the east is the famous City Hall. Built in 1869 by Hermann Waessermann, the building was created in the form of high Italian Renaissance architecture, featuring a clock tower similar to Big Ben in London. With the exception of the Cold War period between 1950 and 1991, this popular attraction has housed the City Senate since its opening.

Church of St. Mary’s and the Fountain of Neptune

As for the market itself, despite its location in the sea of high-rise apartments along Unter den Linden, it has a feeling of small town and hominess, as the market is divided up into two parts: the smaller part which features a facade of old buildings from a small community and is enclaved  by a sea of dark mahogany huts. They all have one thing in common: they sell a variety of local and international goods, including alpaca woolen boots made of llama fur, fabrics from Peru and even merchandise in connection with the German cartoon series The Mole.  Plus there are homemade candles and ceramic ware to choose from. Even wooden products made of Ore Mountain wood can be seen at the huts as well as in the Pyramid Candle located next to the ice skating rink. In any case, locality can be found here and presents a person with a break from all the commercial items one can find at a primary Christmas market, like the one at Alexanderplatz, for example.

But apart from the huts, there are many displays that are made of wood, but resemble construction in an era where there were no saw mills. Many of these are located near the Ferris Wheel and feature a pair of mangers- one for the horses and one for displaying Baby Jesus- as well as a tent where horseback riding can be found. One can say the artwork resemble that of the time of Jesus’ birth, but that may be stretching it. Yet the Ferris Wheel, painted in a combination of blue and white is the glaring eyesore in that particular corner. Yes, one can see the entire market and all of the City Hall and the TV-Tower, yet the claim that it is the largest wheel in Germany is disputable. There is one a Janowitzbrücke that may be even larger, as well as others at the markets in other parts of Berlin that might eclipse it. When even comparing the two from the TV Tower, one can see that the one at Janowitzbrücke is bigger. But given the fact that the Ferris Wheel came from Bavaria (most likely Munich), it would not be surprising if the marketers learned a lesson on how to deceive the customer from former Prime Minister Edmund Stoiber, who stressed the importance of marriage before sex and women being the home-maker when he was involved in many scandals himself, which eventually forced him out of office in 2009.  The right to brag about the largest wheel in Germany is a classic example of the lessons learned by the likes of Stoiber, which the Bavarians still maintain a loyal devotion of his party, the Christian Socialists (CSU) today, but the counterparts in the rest of Germany have long since figured out.

Pyramid Candle made of Ore Mountain wood and the mahogany huts in the background.

But enough of the bragging and the criticism, for it was a sunny day during the visit, what time is great but to teach my five-year old daughter how to ice skate. The fortunate part of this market is despite being open later than other Christmas markets in Mitte (11:00am to be exact in comparison to 8:00am at Alexanderplatz), the market had ice skating rentals, which featured a push-penguin figure weighing over 20 kilos. A heavyweight indeed, but it served as an incentive to push the penguin on the rink and learn to skate. It worked like a charm for after awhile, the penguin was relieved and she was on her way by herself. A pair of big steps on a rink that is sparsely populated right now, but will be crowded with people in the evening. It sums up how homey the market is, when there are a few people around in the day time, taking their time in finding the best gift, drinking a hot drink, such as Apple Punch with Rum, eating fried potato chips and watching your kids grow up on the rink to become the next Kati Witt. Apart from the one at Opernpalais, this one is my highly recommended place to visit during the Christmas season. 🙂

FAST FACT: The Mole is known as Krtek the little mole, which was the work of a Czech cartoonist Zdenek Miller. Created in 1957, it was common in the former East Germany until 1990 and later in Germany. The US is planning on introducing it in the toy and book market in the near future. More info can be found here.

More photos on the Christmas market at Red City Hall can be found here.