Berlin & Dresden, Germany
November 30 – December 5, 2015
Germany! I added another new country to my list last year! I had only flown through Germany in the past, so finally experiencing the culture, food, and seeing the famed sights was exciting. Not to mention all the German Christmas Markets which was perfect for the holiday season!
Day 1: The weather was quite different from Paris and Milan (where I had been prior). I arrived on a rainy Monday evening and my friend and I found an awesome ramen spot called Cocolo. Berlin isn’t necessarily known for its traditional German food but rather as a melting pot of different cultures so our stop at an untraditional German restaurant was quite the norm in Berlin – and it was possibly the best ramen I’ve ever had. We stayed in Mitte, one of the more popular neighborhoods in Berlin, at Leonardo Hotel Mitte located along the River Spree and near the Friedrichstraße shopping district. The contemporary hotel was nice but service was a little subpar compared to the Starwoods hotels my friend and I just came from (I stayed at the Westin Palace in Milan and my friend stayed at Le Meridien in Paris). Unfortunately, there are no Starwoods hotels in Berlin :(. However, the double room was spacious, clean, and for $100/night, we couldn’t really complain!
Day 2: We spent the next day exploring the city making one big loop around the top places to visit for first-time visitors to Berlin. First, Gendarmenmarkt, the winter Christmas Market nestled in between two churches. I thought the Danish knew how to celebrate Christmas but this market was far more sophisticated than the one in Copenhagen with enclosed tents, restaurants, shops, and gluhwein bars!
Next stop, Checkpoint Charlie. This checkpoint was a symbol during the Cold War as it served as the main demarcation point between the Allied occupied West Berlin and Soviet held East. Then, we headed to the Jewish Memorial, to the Reichstag (German Parliament), and to Berlin Dome-Cathedral. After a full day, we decided to head back to the hotel to rest before dinner with a friend of mine who was in town for work.
Day 3 & 5: We started our third day a little late but in style by having lunch on top of the Reichstag. Security was a little intense with passports being required for entrance and being escorted every step of the way, but it was definitely worth the experience and getting to see spectacular views of Berlin. Little fact: If you make a reservation at the restaurant, you’re granted free entrance into the glass dome. We spent the rest of the day exploring the city, walking to Kreuzberg and Schoneberg, and drinking gluhwein at the Christmas Markets.
On our last day in Berlin, we finally explored the area of Mitte, including going to the Berlin Wall Memorial to learn about the history we once learned in textbooks. Mitte is actually a very cool neighborhood in Berlin filled with hipster cafes, restaurants, and plenty of bars. The vibe is much different than that of Kreuzberg and Schoneberg and in hindsight, we should’ve spent more time there.
We finished the week off having dinner at a hidden restaurant/bar called Tausend. It is literally located underneath the train tracks behind a discrete silver unnamed door. The swanky decor, presentation of the food, and drinks were only a taste of the true Berlin that we have yet to discover. If I were to go back, I’d definitely check out the underground scene.
Day 4: Splitting up the week, we took a day trip to Dresden, which is about a 2-hour train ride from Berlin and costs about 80 Euros for a RT ticket depending on when you buy it. When in Europe, always purchase your ticket beforehand online. We unfortunately waited until the day of and prices has risen about 30 Euros overnight.
Although expensive to get there, Dresden was definitely worth the trip. I actually liked the city a lot more than Berlin. The old, classic architecture of the city was charming and the baroque church Frauenkirche, known for its grand dome, was stunning.
Now, the Christmas markets… I thought the markets in Berlin were great, but Dresden’s market were even more mesmerizing! I could barely hold in my childish excitement! The famed Dresden Striezelmarkt, founded in 1434, is one of Germany’s oldest Christmas markets. Every booth’s rooftop is elaborately decorated beyond a child’s imagination, there is a huge Christmas tree in the center, a ferris wheel, and more holiday cheer than Santa’s little elves. It was by far the grandest Christmas market I have ever seen – and my favorite!
Turning every corner in Dresden, you’re bound to stumble one of the 11 themed Christmas markets (we hit about 8 of them in a half day):
- Prager Straße Christmas Market, located just near the train station and easy to hit as you make your way into the city
- The world famous Dresden Striezelmarkt, one of the oldest Christmas markets in all of Europe
- Neumarkt Advent, where you can find handcrafted goods right in front of the famous Frauenkirche
- The traditional Christmas Market at the Frauenkirche
- Advent Spectacular in the Royal Courtyard, the medieval themed market
- The romantic Palace Christmas Market
- Huttenzauber with its apres ski charm
- The Augustusmarkt on Hauptstraße, located across the Elbe River in Neustadt
- Neustadter Advent in the Boroque Quarter
- Neustadter Gelichter
- Elbhangfest Christmas Market