Right Down Santa Claus Lane
In Berlin, there’s a Christmas market on every corner. Really. Every corner. There’s Gendarmenmarkt and Opernpalais – classy affairs – while the market at Alexanderplatz is a sprawling menagerie of fun houses, fair rides, and staggering, drunken teenagers. But even besides these large Christmas markets (and those aren’t nearly all of them), there are tiny markets tucked into strange corners, scant strips of wooden houses lined up along the street, as if wherever you go, you absolutely, positively, need to be within arm’s length of Glühwein, gingerbread hearts, and 3-foot long sausages.
But there is a certain amount of charm to these closely clustered cottages, though the markets are all relatively alike. Wandering through some of the larger, maze-like getups, you almost forget, for a moment, that you’re actually in the middle of a city. As if you’ve been stuck into a blown up fairy tale land, powdered sugar snow and gingerbread houses.
Bundled-up bands of people huddle around warm places – in Potsdamer Platz, there are tall fire pits, at Alexanderplatz, cylindrical heat lamps – and depending on where you are, these groups of people are students joking about their classmates, or whispering, huddled couples, or Prolls in pink velvet sweatpants and slick and shiny, black down-filled jackets. Conspicuously absent are young children, at least during the evenings, which is when I manage to make it to the Christmas markets. These gaudy shacks, stacks of candy, and carousel rides are for grownups? Na, cool, as the Germans say.
Last week, we walked around the Alexanderplatz market, and when it started to rain, we posted ourselves under the corner of a cottage and sipped Glühwein out of mugs shaped like little blue boots. We people-watched and gossiped, huddling closer together as the rain shifted from a fine mist to an insistent, thick-dropped drizzle. On the way out, we passed the flying swings, circling high in the air at a dizzying clip, almost twice as high as any flying swings I’d seen before. We’d hurried past the swings quickly on the way in, saying, never, no, absolutely never could we be induced to sit in one of those chairs. “Let’s do it,” I said, and impulsively, Elisabeth agreed. As the chairs began to swing and lift up into the air, we were amazed at how easily we’d convinced ourselves to ride. High over the fair, the wind was icy and pellets of rain stung our faces as we whipped around. But the pinpricks of light below were beautiful and in the cold there was a calm silence. Back on the ground again, surrounded by the chatter of the emptying fair, last calls for toasted nuts and bratwursts, we looked up at the swings starting to rise again, amazed at what a little Glühwein made us do.