Things to Do in Berlin at Christmas and New Year
Thinking of going to Berlin for Christmas or New Year? Our expat friend shares his tips on how to party like a local, from the Berlin Christmas markets to Berghain, the key things to do in Berlin over the festive period... and where to watch the fireworks
Step 1: Visit the Weihnachtsmarkts (Christmas markets!).
It’s about as Deutsch as you can get at Christmas, and, since you're in Berlin, why not go to an actual German market?! Just be picky, okay, 'cause there are reasons not to go some (schlager music being one; just being a giant, expensive tourist mess is another *cough* Alexanderplatz *cough*).
But, if you’re careful, or not an idiot, some of the Berlin Christmas markets are great – full of reasonably priced Glühwein to fill mit schüss and get a real wonderfully wintery kind of messy.
The market at Kulturbrauerei is a personal favourite. In the courtyards of Prenzlauerberg’s old brewery, you’ll find a lot of great stalls for filling you with all kinds of food, drink and sugary crap.
WeihnachtsZauber at Gendarmenmarkt is a classier, more family scene (and has a €1 entrance fee to keep the riff-raff out), but it’s a beautiful market in a beautiful square – surrounded by the Deutscher Dom, Konzerthaus and and a big ol’ church. Food is plentiful, and here there’s more of a handwerk scene for small objects and clothes.
If you’re actually in Berlin for The Day itself, it’s worth noting that the 24th is when the Christmas shit goes down. The latter half of the day, everything will be closed, and Berlin is kind of a ghost town. That said, from midnight everything opens again, 'cause Germans are nothing if not obsessively following the law/tradition to the letter even if they don’t want to. So you’ll still have plenty of time to work on your Christmas Day hangover.
Step 2: Dinner for what?
When silvester (New Year's Eve) finally rolls around you’ve got a few options in terms of things to do in Berlin. One solid one is to get invited to a traditional German silvester dinner.
As well as food, booze and melting lead to tell the future, this will doubtless involve a confused pause in party proceedings as your fellow diners are shocked and awed at your lack of knowledge of Dinner for One. The party will stop as they explain about Miss Sophie and ask, "Are you sure you don’t know it...?".
Eventually, someone whaps on the DVD and you get to see a room full of Germans all mouthing along. Which is both funny and strange, much like the film itself.
Step 3: Hide.
Another good thing to do in Berlin at New Year is hide. Or maybe get high. To be honest, the higher the better.
If you can’t do that, then yes, hide. For as the bells ring in, the streets of Berlin turn into a warzone. Fireworks go off everywhere at everyone. Windows smash and only the highest of balconies are safe. But if you’re up there, mein Gott, mein Gott. You’ve never seen such a relentless display of fireworks. All across the city. For hours.
So wherever you are at midnight, just don’t plan on going anywhere between midnight and 1am. Settle in. Enjoy it. You’ve got plenty of time. The Berlin Night is long.
Step 4. Go to a bar.
Assuming you survived Step 3, and you’re not into the other Step 4, Berlin has you covered with bars. Going out for a splash around the bars of Neukölln is always a treat. Everywhere you look there will be somewhere cosy/drunk/calm, with (probably) amazing music. Weserstrasse will likely be rammed full of merriment. Weichselstrasse is somewhat nicer, with a bunch of bars failing to claim names at corners such as Ossastrasse and Weserstrasse. It also has Das Gift, which, if you’re a Scot feeling homesick, you can do a lot worse than.
Step 5. Go clubbing.
Berghain exists and will of course be open for shenanigans on the 31st, although the real deal ‘Erste Klub nacht 2016’ isn’t until the 1st. I wouldn’t worry though. If you’re going, you’re going for the weekend. And whether you get in or not, at least you’ll save on Airbnb fees.
Arena is having a more ticketed affair. You can score early ones for 25 Euros, and all-in-boozy-as-fuck tickets for a little over double that. Maybe that saves you in the long run?
Arena has a bunch of cunts playing across a plethora of dancefloors and its big-ass terrace which falls all messy and drunken around the Spree.
If you are going out to a club and don’t already have a ticket, you’ll be up against some world-class famous doorman-discrimination. You can be sent away from some clubs for talking too much English, for being over-dressed, for being under-dressed or just because you don’t know who’s playing. Small groups are always key (twos and threes). Stag-Night-Steve and his pals won't be getting in.
It’s not like there’s an actual dress code. Pffft. Its Berlin. It’s your stease that matters, so wear what you want! But bear in mind no one here wears shoes to work, so to a club? Nope. A simple t-shirt or polo? Are you kidding, it’s minus 10°C. Get. A. Coat. Practical, comfortable stuff. Get your jeans on. Are you really planning on dancing for nine hours in heels? You can wear whatever skinny, lacy nothings you want once you’re in there (and for some club nights less is more). All the bouncers are after is a good crowd for that night. So dress like that. Dress like a good crowd. And fuck, if you don’t get in, just go somewhere else. It’s not like Berlin is short of clubs. New Year's night is pretty hard to get wrong. And probably the day after too. Just go out.
The city awaits you with its massive drunken Deutsche arms.
Step 6. Move in.
After that night – or probably weekend – you’ll doubtless have decided that sticking in Berlin is a good idea. And fuck, it’s not like you had any work in the UK anyway.
So when that happens, as it does to a good 43% of tourists under 37, you have a plethora of other cultural delights to look forward to, and things to do in Berlin:
The Berlinale film festival is Germany’s answer to Cannes, and it’s getting bigger every year. In 2014, Wes Anderson premiered his great and grand Budapest Hotel there, and this year Sebastian Schipper showed the awesome Victoria (filmed in one shot, it’s 2.5 hours of perfectly pitched improvised Berlin life).
In a shock turn of events, summer is actually a thing in Germany, so you’ve got months of lakes, warmth and spätis (all night corner shops/cool beer vendors) to look forward to. And on top of lounging around the city, there’s a wide range of festivals going on near to Berlin.
You’ve got the nigh-on-impossible to get tickets for, hippie as techno comes Fusion Festival in June-July, and Melt! festival shortly after that (15-17 Jul).
Fusion is niche in that it’s volunteer-run, there’s no advertising and you don’t know anything about the line-up (aside from it’s fairly dance focused), but it’s also huge, taking up an entire airfield for the 60,000 lucky punters who manage to get tickets in the lottery.
Melt! features much bigger names (Kylie, Alt-J, Jon Hopkins played in 2015) and is literally surrounded by water. Which makes for a great place to be in mid-July in Germany.
Towards the tail-end of the festival season, Lollapalooza comes to Berlin (10 & 11 Sep). Again, no line-up is available at the time of writing, but last year Lollapolooza featured the likes of Muse, Beatsteaks, Fatboy Slim and Tame Impala. And, if that’s not enough, it’s hosted in the amazing Tempelhof Airport: not only is this one of the nicest, free green spaces/abandoned airports in the centre of any city in the world, but it also has a hugely impressive WWII-era terminal, which is well worth exploring on a tour.
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