Germany for Christmas?
October 7, 2018 3:44 PM   Subscribe

My wife and I are planning on a vacation for Christmas this year and we were leaning towards Germany. Does Germany shut down for Christmas? We're planning on being there from ~ Dec 20 - Jan 2.

We're currently living in LA so visiting snow seems like a good idea. I w as thinking of Berlin for a few days and Munich for a few days. Should we spend Christmas in one over the other? Is everything going to be closed and we should go somewhere else? If not what should we do? We love beer and theatre and my wife wants to go to a ballet. Will Dachau be closed? We've never been to Europe and I think we settled on Germany because I'm very interested in being reminded that there can be a civil society after fascism.
posted by Uncle to Travel & Transportation around Germany (10 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Berlin is probably better than Munich for the actual Christmas evening and day, and day after. Berlin is more liberal and less religious than Munich and is likely to have more eating-out and entertainment options during the holidays. There will be hotel lunches and dinners both places and more beautiful masses and other religious celebrations in Munich, including Christmas concerts.
Theatre is amazing in Berlin. I've found it worth going even back when my German was fragmentary. The acting is that good.
Generally the season is fun in Germany, with Christmas Markets and decorations all over the place. There are very few closing days. And snow is far from guaranteed either place (though you could take a couple of days in the Alps very easily from Munich). It will be a great holiday regardless.
Dachau is closed on Christmas Eve.
Maybe you can get reservations for the Nutcracker at the Staatsoper either in Berlin or Munich. It's a Christmas tradition! But you probably have to run to their sites right now. (Search for Der Nussknacker)
Regarding your political interests, I've heard the situation in Munich is quite tense these days, because the Alternative für Deutschland are gaining votes. I don't think it would be something felt by visitors, though, unless you go looking for it. They are keeping a low profile because the Antifa are hunting them down relentlessly, according to what I read.

I was once in Germany all the time, including for Christmas, now it's less than once a year. But I still have contacts there and my daughter and some of her friends go more often than I do.
posted by mumimor at 4:19 PM on October 7, 2018 [2 favorites]

Definitely recommend Berlin for the start of your trip, with Munich at the end. Berlin is amazing for Christmas. It’s a fairly simple train ride between the two.

Visiting Dauchau concentration camp will be an all-day trip, so be sure to leave extra time if you’d like to fully explore Munich as well.

Many shops (supermarkets, etc) are closed on Sunday throughout Germany, so take that into account when planning.

Feel free to MeMail for recommendations/tips for Berlin. There are some amazing history museums there that you might like.
posted by Tiny Bungalow at 6:27 PM on October 7, 2018

Go to Munich at the beginning of the trip and visit the Christmas markets. They're absolutely amazing, but stop on the 24th.

Berlin will be much more fun for Christmas and afterwards.
posted by kdar at 7:27 PM on October 7, 2018

I've been in Berlin in the days leading up to Christmas, as well as the day after Christmas, and could not possibly recommend it more. Everyone else has much better knowledge of Munich and the Berlin theatre scene, but I can say that I didn't notice much shut down (I was able to go to museums, restaurants, etc. quite easily). The Christmas markets are a lot of fun, plan to eat your way through the one on Alexanderplatz especially! It's very cold, but I didn't much notice or mind, because the city is so interesting and fun and beautiful. (I am from the Northeast, though I'm not particularly cold-hardly.)

Honestly, Berlin at Christmas is a really special place, I definitely recommend spending at least part of your trip there.

By the way -- it's not obviously not Dachau, but in that vein I recommend visiting the Holocaust memorial (Memorial to the Murdered Jews of Europe) in Berlin.
posted by kalimac at 7:28 PM on October 7, 2018 [1 favorite]

Seconding/thirding/etc the Christmas markets, especially in Berlin and especially the one in Alexanderplatz (but note, I've only been to ones in Berlin). Really neat cross-section of people and culture in a beautiful setting with all the food and drink you could want.

Also, this: "We've never been to Europe and I think we settled on Germany because I'm very interested in being reminded that there can be a civil society after fascism."

Berlin might be best then. Oozing with history related to WWII. You often feel a part of it just walking around. As one small example, there are still bullet holes in pillars surrounding famous museums from when the Russians rolled in. In particular, you might be interested to tour the Bundestag (but be sure to book several days in advance), which is the seat of German federal parliament and has a nice walking audio tour of politics starting around (I think) WWI through present day, and visit the Topography of Terror (SS/Gestapo museum) and the Berlin wall. All three highly recommended, and that's just the tip of the iceberg for fun historical stuff to do.
posted by 3FLryan at 8:22 PM on October 7, 2018 [1 favorite]

Some of the smaller cafes, shops will close down over Christmas (+/- day before and after), but the Gendarmenmarkt was open right through until the 31st, I think, and was an easy option on Christmas Day. I loved the Stasi museum and skipped the Jewish Museum and Checkpoint Charlie, but I'm a grouch about museums. Another slightly more niche option is Werkbundarchiv - Museum der Dinge.

Somewhat related to life-after-fascism - there are multiple bookstores with antifa/socialist selections. Saint George is best for all-English, non-mainstream selections imo. Pro qm near Rosa-Luxembourg-Platz is a more academic/arty option.
posted by ahundredjarsofsky at 11:31 PM on October 7, 2018 [1 favorite]

the shops in the main train stations will be open on Sunday, not sure about xmas
posted by brujita at 11:59 PM on October 7, 2018

Best answer: Supermarkets and other shops are always closed on Sundays in Germany (notable exception: some bakeries are open on Sunday mornings to sell Brötchen (rolls) and/or in the afternoons to see cake). On Christmas Eve (24th) they are usually open until midday, and on both Christmas days (25th, 26th) they are closed completely. This usually leads to a stampede on December 23rd and the morning of the 24th, as people will by food (and last-minute presents) like it's their last chance forever. To a lesser extent this is true for New Year's: shops are open until midday on the 31st and closed on January 1st, and the supermarkets/shops are very busy on the 30th and the morning of the 31st. This year the 24th and the 31st are on a Monday, which will make the effect even worse.

Check the websites of museums to find out whether they will be open over Christmas, it's different for every one.

For a visit to Dachau, look at their website. As far as I can tell, they are open every day except for December 24th.

I haven't been to Munich in ages, but for Berlin I can recommend visits to several museums and memorials: Stasi prison Hohenschönhausen, Topography of Terror, German Resistance Memorial center, all of which offer tours that are well worth attending. I've also been to the Jewish Museum, the Wall Museum Checkpoint Charlie and on tours of the Bundestag (for example you can take a guided tour of the Reichstag building). You could probably spend a week in Berlin alone without getting bored...
posted by amf at 12:52 AM on October 8, 2018 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Oh -- nthing Topography of Terror. I also found the DDR museum (it's a little hidden, but it's right on the river) one of the best-designed museums I've ever been to in my life. It's fascinating, interactive, and gives a sense of everyday life under the Stasi, although I felt they skimped a little on the level of spying/disappearing/etc. that was going on. It fits with people I've talked to who grew up in East Germany but weren't dissidents or didn't know any. (Sorry, that's more post-WWII, but I hope it fits your general theme of coming out the other side of fascism.)

I found Checkpoint Charlie itself kind of gross. People died trying to cross the border, and now you can pose for a photograph with someone dressed as an East German guard, and get a fake stamp on your passport. YMMV, but be prepared to have a lot of feelings about all the potential ways to collectively memorialize the past, I guess.
posted by kalimac at 9:13 AM on October 8, 2018

I'd like to second the recommendation of the Bundestag audio tour if you're interested in history. The building was really cool, too, and the way that they added to it preserved the sense of the place. You can (or at least could in 2009) walk up into the dome and look out over the city and then down into the parliament seats and for some reason that made an impression on me.

One other cool thing about Berlin for a history buff is that they've got bricks running along the streets and sidewalks where the wall used to be. It's kind of like the Freedom Trail in Boston, except you are walking along the line that used to divide East from West (well, parts of it run through the middle of streets, IIRC, but you can still mostly follow along). It was nice subtle reminder that got me thinking about the insane amounts of history that happened in 20th century Berlin, while also enjoying walking through the modern city.

I was there in summer, so can't help you with the Christmas stuff. But keep an eye out for those bricks.
posted by breakin' the law at 9:58 AM on October 10, 2018

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