25 December – Christmas day in Berlin…..
Our Christmas day definitely ended up being non-traditional. An early morning visit to the beautiful Reichstag dome, a walk through Berlin’s Tiergarten, a visit to the famous East-side gallery graffiti wall, and some Christmas market food and fun! Not a present, Santa or roast turkey in sight……..
We were all up early, around 7am, and had a quick toast breakfast before heading out in time for our tour of the Reichstag building. The Reichstag building houses the German parliament (the Bundestag). It was originally opened in 1894. The large glass dome at the very top of the Reichstag has a 360-degree view of the surrounding Berlin cityscape. The main hall of the parliament below can also be seen from inside the dome, and natural light from above radiates down to the parliament floor. A large sun shield tracks the movement of the sun electronically and blocks direct sunlight which would not only cause large solar gain, but dazzle those below. Construction work on the dome was finished in 1999 and the seat of parliament was transferred to the Bundestag in April of that year. You can do a tour of the dome (for free) but need to pre-register. I had booked our spot for Christmas morning before leaving Australia.
It was a beautiful and not very cold morning (no Christmas snow!) so we enjoyed our walk down from the tram stop to the Reichstag. There are a lot of impressive and modern buildings in the area.
Once we arrived at the Reichstag building we noted we weren’t the only people out visiting it first thing on Christmas morning. It’s the second most visited attraction in Berlin, mostly for the impressive dome. You can do tours of the parliament when they are sitting but being Christmas day, there was only the dome tour running. The inscription on the front of the building ‘Dem Deutschen Volke’ means ‘To the German people’. Part of the explanation for the glass dome being added (after reunification) was so the parliament could look up from their chamber and see the people they served, and not to forget the reason they were there. When you are up in the dome, you can indeed see down into the parliament.
Once we arrived at the building we then had to proceed through security, which involved checking of our official letter, our passports, and going through a metal detector and bag search. All approved, we had to head through some secure doors, and were only let into the next section after the doors were closed behind us. The lift we were escorted into was huge and had glass doors so you could see up and down as we whizzed to the top of the building.
Once out, we could pick up the audioguides to do our self-guided tour. Somehow we ended up with German guides rather than English, but could make out enough to be useful. I was busy taking photos of the impressive dome anyway. There is a spiral path that you work your way around and all the way up to the top of the dome. The top is open to the elements, and it had clearly rained the night before. We were touring the dome at around 9am and the sun coming through the different angled glass panes and reflecting off the mirrors was beautiful. I’d read that the most popular time to visit is sunset, but I think we picked a pretty impressive time regardless.
From the terrace, you can look down into the courtyards and see the German and EU flags flying. The views across the city were nice, and very clear. It was a sunny and clear morning and we saw more than we did up the TV tower the previous day.
We then wound our way up the curved path and took in the magnificent views outside and the spectacular dome inside. The kids loved running up and down the curved paths, and couldn’t give a rats about the view! It was definitely worth visiting the Reichstag and I highly recommend going if you ever visit Berlin. Pre-registering is a good idea as it can get pretty busy and you may not get a spot. You also need to provide ID, date of birth and undergo a security check, so it’s not easy to do on a whim.
After we came back down from the top of the dome, we did a quick video chat with rellies back home in Australia. The time difference meant it was now evening there, and they were all home from Christmas festivities. It was a pretty windy day and it wasn’t easy to hear each other, but we did manage a quick hello, from high up in one of Germany’s famous buildings!
We probably spent about an hour or so in the Reichstag, then returned our audio guides and headed back down in the lift. Getting out through security was a significantly quicker process than getting in. We decided to head through the section of Tiergarten adjacent to the Reichstag and check out the Brandenburg Tor once again, just in case we had missed anything on our quick bike tour stop a couple of days earlier. We also checked out the memorial to the Roma people as we walked through the garden adjacent to Brandenburg.
Soren had fallen asleep in the ergo so we decided to walk back through the Tiergarten for about 4ish km with Astrid in her ergo, so she could also rest. We took a similar path to what we did on the bike tour, but this time we were able to stop and take photos and check out the statues and ponds. Without snow on the ground or leaves on the trees, the Tiergarten wasn’t as pretty as it could have been, but was still worth checking out. The park was pretty deserted aside from a few joggers and dog walkers. Soren woke up towards the end of our walk, so still got to see some of his favourite sight – dogs!
While in Berlin I really wanted to visit the East-side gallery. It is a famous 1.3km section of the wall, located in the former East Berlin. The gallery consists of 105 paintings by artists from all over the world, and was painted in 1990. It is the largest open-air gallery in the world. Most paintings are sectioned off with wire fencing to stop graffiti over the intended paintings. Unfortunately this does make it harder to view and photograph the paintings. Some areas aren’t fenced but are covered in a lot of graffiti. Nevertheless it was interesting to see all the different paintings and we enjoyed the walk along the wall (it runs along the River Spree). It was getting rather breezy though, especially along the exposed sections of the wall.
Since it was Christmas day, and now lunch time, we decided to check-out a Christmas market for some lunch and rides for the kids. We hadn’t yet been to the well-regarded Potzdamer Platz market, so headed that way via trains and trams from the East-side gallery. First on the agenda was lunch….. there were as usual, quite a few food options to pick from. Anto and Mikl decide on smoked pork and sauerkraut. Alan has a giant pork knuckle and potato fries. We decided to let the kids try currywurst, a Berlin specialty (there is even a currywurst museum in Berlin). They didn’t mind it, but ate a fair bit of the other dishes too. I decided that since it’s Christmas I might as well have a grand marnier crepe and a baileys hot choc for lunch – as you do! Astrid and Soren got to share a butter and sugar crepe for their dessert. It was a bit of an unconventional Christmas lunch but it felt fairly Christmassy as we were standing in the markets eating it!
As a Christmas day treat, we decide that the kids can have another ride. They picked the swinging merry-go-round. Soren had been chanting about a ‘ride’ for at least half an hour and then at the last minute decided he didn’t want to go on. So, we bought a single ticket for Astrid and she was off and grinning. As always seems to happen, once she finished her turn, Soren then wanted to go on, but only if Astrid went with him. Meaning that we had to buy another 2 tickets. It would have been much cheaper to buy the 3 rides up front (you get a discount for multi rides), but they like to make life more expensive for us! As we couldn’t go on the ride with Soren (it was kid sized only) we weren’t sure how Soren would go. At first he didn’t seem keen, but by the end he was looking pretty happy. Although not as grinny as Miss Astrid.
It was now after 3pm and the kids were looking pretty tired, so we decided to head back to the apartment for a late rest. After a tram ride and a short walk, they of course refuse to nap in their comfy and warm beds, spoiling our plans for some catch-up rest on our quieter days. The joys of travelling with small children!
With Soren getting even more tired, we decide that we’d better go hunting for an elusive open supermarket as we were running low on food. Due to getting in so late on the 23rd and nothing much being open on the 24th and 25th. I popped Soren in the ergo while Anto and I headed out, and Astrid stayed with the others to do some colouring in. Soren did eventually have a much needed nap in the ergo, while I was walking around with him, but Anto and I did not find an open supermarket despite walking past about 7 closed ones.
We had, however, managed to locate an open Italian restaurant about 50 metres from our apartment and decided that it would make an appropriate Christmas dinner. While in Berlin, why not have Italian for dinner? We rallied the troops and headed over to the restaurant. It turned out to be a good find, lots of yummy food and plenty of beer and gluhwein. Alan had a tomato cream soup with a garlic and olive oil foccacia bread (that we shared, and was delicious). Anto had an enormous capriccio pizza. Mikl ordered a salmon and spinach au gratin and I had an artichoke, white wine and butter au gratin. Both the au gratins were great. We ordered the kids a ham and cheese omelette, as Astrid had requested one and it was the biggest omelette we had ever seen. No one went home hungry!
It turned out to not be a very traditional Christmas day. We didn’t have any presents (we did do a Christmas BBQ with presents for the kids before we went away) and we didn’t have a traditional sit-down meal. We had originally thought of booking a hotel brunch or dinner with a specific Christmas menu but didn’t find anything we really wanted. In the end our day of sight-seeing and Christmas markets was pretty fun, and definitely not a Christmas day that we are likely to repeat!
Statistics for the 25th of December 2015 in Berlin – the minimum temperature was 6 degrees and the maximum was 10 degrees, with a mean of 8 degrees. Definitely not snow weather, but we had always known that was unlikely in Berlin anyway. It turns out that the majority of places we considered for Christmas day didn’t end up with snow due to an unseasonable warm spell. We’ve since made up for the lack of snow on Christmas day with a very snowy start to 2016! It was a busy day with total walking of over 18.5km, our most walking of the trip to date…….
Our Boxing Day was also a little nontraditional, we were heading out of Berlin to the town of Potsdam, for more bide riding, more palaces, more gardens and more Christmas markets.