Christmas time is here... auf Deutsche!
June 24, 2012 5:37 PM   Subscribe

Help me plan an awesome Christmas vacation to Berlin!

I've been wanting to visit Germany since taking German in 8th grade, and am trying to figure out the best way to do it during the Christmas season (I am an American, and my university employer is closed between Christmas and New Years; going at that time is ideal because I won't have to use up any of my vacation days). I'm thinking of sticking to Berlin -- I've been told that there's plenty to do there, and I'm OK with seeing other parts of Germany another time. I am also thinking that given how big Berlin is, more will be open when I visit.

Relevant details:
--Young female traveler who will be going solo. I've traveled on my own before abroad, though most of my experience in non-English speaking countries has been in groups. I'm very comfortable in hostels (though prefer quieter ones to party places, and try to stay in private rooms since I'm a super light sleeper) and would prefer to stick to them for the camaraderie and to alleviate any "Alone on Christmas" loneliness.
--I can speak/read the tiniest bit of German, and will keep practicing until I leave.
--My favorite things to do when I travel are sample the local beer and specialty local foods. I also love visiting museums, libraries, greenhouse conservatories, etc. I am also totally down with any well-done historic walking tours. I've read all the MeFi questions pertaining to Berlin, and have bookmarked all the general "traveling in Berlin things to do" stuff.

1. How much does Berlin close down between December 24-26? This will likely be right in the middle of my trip. I am totally OK with spending 1-2 days taking it easy at the hostel and reading some good books, but wouldn't want to miss out on more of the city life than that. I've heard that Germans "do Christmas" on the 24th, so will it be impossible to find places to eat on the 24th? Will I be limited to sad donner kebab shops? Does the public transportation shut down, or go to limited hours?

2. Has anyone stayed at any of the following hostels: St Christopher's, Heart of Gold, Pfefferbett, or baxpax downtown? These seem to fit my criteria for the dates I plan to be there (roughly 22-29), availability of private rooms, and things like a bar on site. Any other hostel recommendations?

3. What can I do Christmas-wise on the 24th/25th? I've seen a couple schedules for Christmas markets that appear to be open those days, and some concerts/operas. I'm not religious at all, but I think it'd be fun to attend any midnight Christmas eve services.

4. I'm very comfortable here in the States going into a bar by myself (as a mid-20s lady) and ordering a beer and hanging out with a magazine, but is this considered weird in Germany? If so, are there any lady-friendly places to do it?

5. How cold will it be at that time of year?

Danke schön, Metafilter!
posted by mostly vowels to Travel & Transportation around Berlin, Germany (7 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Regarding your #4, Berlin has lots of cozy kneiper where single women can usually be left alone--even at a communal table.

The main problems I had were being leered at by a member of Hu Jiantao's entourage in the lobby of the Adlon (in front of my aunt and uncle) and being menaced by an Arab thug across the street from the McDonald's on Friedrichstrasse in Mitte.
posted by brujita at 5:58 PM on June 24, 2012

I was in Berlin at that time of year a little over 10 years ago so I imagine some things might have changed since then. However I seem to remember that things were still mostly closed on the 26th. There was one Christmas market still open, although the number of stalls was limited. I got the sense from my friends whom I was visiting that Christmas Eve/Christmas Day was primarily for children and family, but adults got together with friends on the 26th; indeed we were invited to someone's apartment for a lovely Christmas style dinner with all the trimmings. I had arrived that morning having left the east coast of the US late in the day on Christmas, which I chose because it was a lot cheaper than flying out on the 23 or 24th. So if your dates are a little flexible, you might want to consider that so you won't end up with 2-3 days where you have very limited options for places to go and more importantly places to eat, although I certainly understand the appeal of spending Christmas there. Perhaps you could look into AirBnB and see if you could find a place that worked with your budget that would give you access to a kitchen?

I don't remember it being uncomfortably cold while I was there; probably mostly in the mid-to-high 30s?

Again, I was mostly with my friends, but I did venture out on my own and always felt safe, however I can't specifically speak to going out and getting a drink your own. I have a feeling that it would be just fine though. I did go to a couple of restaurants and cafes on my own and the only thing that I ran into was that most of the servers did not speak English at all and I only knew a few words in German. As an aside I'm generally not one of those people who expects everyone to speak English, but you always hear "Oh everyone in Germany speaks English," so it caught me off guard, which is why I'm mentioning it here. Luckily I don't have any dietary restrictions and am not picky so I just would point at something on the menu and it always worked out.

I had never had a burning desire to go to Berlin. I went because I had coincidentally had three separate friends who were going to be in Berlin that year, but I ending up adoring it and would love to go back. I'm sure that you will have an amazing trip!
posted by kaybdc at 6:57 PM on June 24, 2012

Hotel restaurants, Chinese or Indian will probably be your best bet for dinner on Xmas.
posted by brujita at 7:52 PM on June 24, 2012

I can't speak to 1 - 3, but for #4, you should have no troubles. I'm a male, but Germany was very friendly in terms of going to places alone. That being said, there are parts of Berlin to avoid, but overall it's a safe spot.

For #5, I've only been to Germany in the summer, but know that the winter will be dark a lot of time. I had some friends that lived there, and they said it was pretty cold, but not cold enough for them to not ride their bikes.

If Xmas is anything like Sunday in Germany, then you'd be limited to doener and the tankstelle for food. I'd assume that's the case, but there will probably be a good amount of markets occurring too.

I agree with kaybdc, during my trip in Germany, I had zero expectations about Berlin. However, it was my favorite place to visit. I've always been interested in the East/West split, and Berlin has a hugely rich history of just that. Lots to do and see.
posted by neveroddoreven at 7:55 PM on June 24, 2012

Best answer: Hi there! Berlin is awesome, you will love it. To answer your questions:

1. Shops and things are still open on the 24th, but on the 25th & 26th it is pretty dead. Things will be moving again from the 27th, so if you're happy with one or two days of downtime, you'll be fine.

A personal tip: Go to the former Tempelhof airport (now a park) on Christmas day. There's nothing there, but that's what I love about it. A big, empty, quiet expanse in the middle of the city, with a real story behind it too.

2. I have not stayed in any of the places you mention. Heart of Gold is on Rosenthaler Platz, which is near the gallery district (Augustrasse/Linienstrasse). Lots and lots of tiny galleries to explore around there. I can personally recommend the City Stay Hostel, though: clean, inexpensive, highly central, a bit more quiet, friendly staff, bar on site.

3. The Berliner Dom is a beautiful and centrally-located cathedral which will probably have some Christmas services planned. You should definitely go to one of the numerous 'Weihnachtsmarkts' in the city. My tip: avoid the one at Alexanderplatz because it's wayyy too touristy and crowded. There is one in Rixdorf which is much lovelier and authentically local.

Some websites which might be useful:

Sugarhigh - a daily email newsletter with insider tips and things to do. Not useful right away, but sign up closer to the time you will be in the city.

Exberliner - "Berlin in English"

4. I would say that to hang out by yourself in a bar is not at all weird, particularly in cool districts like Kreuzberg and Prenzlauer Berg where many other ladies do the same thing. Just avoid anything which calls itself a "sports bar" or any place where they mostly seem to be playing backgammon in a haze of cigarette smoke.

5. At Christmas temperatures hover around freezing, though it varies from year to year. You will need a good winter coat, and decent boots if it's snowing.

I could go on forever, so just MeMail me if you have any more specific questions!
posted by guessthis at 6:44 AM on June 25, 2012

For youth hostels I can recommend Inn-Berlin - it's clean and quiet and more comfortable than a usual hostel. I liked that it has a kitchen and fridges where you can keep stuff, so if you are limited for eating out options on xmas you could always prepare in advance by buying/bringing a few things with you.

Enjoy your trip!!
posted by EatMyHat at 11:08 AM on June 25, 2012

Response by poster: Thanks everyone - I bit the bullet and finally got my tickets! Really looking forward to this trip.
posted by mostly vowels at 5:48 AM on September 13, 2012

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