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04 August 2017

Tour Director Colin Bailey introduces this spectacular Christmas tour to the German capital.


by Colin Bailey

No-one does Christmas quite like the Germans, and, from Advent throughout the festive period, their magnificent capital is transformed into a veritable Winter Wonderland.

Berlin’s more than fifty popular Christmas markets, many of them now individually themed, are virtual Aladdin’s caves offering a seductive range of merchandise, from luxury goods at the high end to charming traditional handicrafts in wood or stone or lace as well as quality food-stuffs, among them excellent cheeses, chocolates and charcuterie.

Everywhere, the air is perfumed with the scent of roasted almonds and char-grilled Bratwurst, mulled wine and steaming cocoa.

The largest of these markets are situated within some of the city’s most beautiful historic sites, including Schloϐ Charlottenburg and the exquisite Gendarmenmarkt, or in modern locations such as Alexanderplatz or the stunning interior of the Sony Centre.

At Christmas, too, the entire city becomes a glorious festival of light, with every significant building, from the iconic Brandenburg Gate to the emblematic Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church; from the monumental Berlin Cathedral to the landmark Red Town Hall, bathed in breathtakingly  imaginative illuminations.

Justly renowned around the globe for its symphony orchestra, and boasting (for politico-historical reasons) two opera houses and numerous theatres and concert halls, Berlin at this time of year provides a wide variety of seasonal musical entertainments, among which the legendary carol concerts regularly attract huge British audiences.

We tend to forget, perhaps, just how many of our own carols have tunes and lyrics that originated in the German-speaking lands.

Of course, Berlin is a vibrant city with countless attractions throughout the year, and can legitimately lay claim to the title of cultural capital of Germany.

In the twenty-seven years since Reunification, it has also gained a reputation for being as elegant, chic and sophisticated as Paris. Berliners are warm-hearted and welcoming.

Berlin is home to some of the finest museums and art galleries in Europe.

They include, on the aptly named Museum Island, four major collections in addition to the world-famous Pergamon Museum.

On the other side of the city, within sight and easy walking distance of Potsdamer Platz ( itself one of the most exciting and dynamic complexes of the modern era) stands the imposing Kulturforum, housing a superb Museum of Applied Arts and the outstanding Gemäldegalerie, showcasing the crème de la crème of European art.

Some of the most majestic, and many of the most innovative, buildings from Berlin’s nineteenth-century past, such as the Altes Museum, the Neue Wache and the Friedrichswerdersche Kirche, are the work of the prolific architect and brilliant polymath Carl Friedrich Schinkel, whose neo-Classical and neo-Gothic edifices are to be found throughout the city and beyond.

Berlin without Schinkel would be rather alike Rome without Bernini or Barcelona without Gaudì.

Not long after the infamous Wall was erected, cruelly dividing the city in two, I lived in West Berlin for a year while conducting research on both sides of the border. During this time, I got to know the city intimately and have returned there almost every year since.

It is without doubt one of my favourite destinations North of the Alps. I look forward to returning yet again to an ever-changing Berlin and to sharing my experiences with those who will be joining me to sample this year’s Christmas celebrations and more.


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