At the Weihnachtsmarkt, or through the Gate of The Time

rotawheelUnter den Linden today, or more specifically, the few hundred meters between the Schlossplatz and the Opera House, offers a lovely contrast in Christmas concepts.

One of the biggest, or at least most elaborate, Weihnachtsmarkts is hosted every year on the empty Schlossplatz, a parking lot in more ordinary times. For non-German readers, a Weihnachtsmarkt (also known as Christ-Kindl-Markt, or just Christmas Market) is traditionally where vendors set up little huts and sell all kinds of ornaments, candles, Christmas breads and cakes, and so on. These days they vary from unbelievably quaint to perfectly carny. Carny or corny, your pick.

The Schlossplatz falls on the carny end. A giant ferris wheel looms over what’s really gateofthetime carnival with extras. Other rides are aimed at the stronger-of-stomach, including the tallest “Transporter” free-fall tower drop in Europe. All kinds of games are on offer, of the throw-a-ring-around-a-bottle, shoot-a-basketball variety. One such game blinks “LOSE… LOSE…” at its top. You can’t say they’re not honest.

My favorite is the haunted house, based somehow on the Terminator 2 movie, that methusalah advertises itself in huge neon letters as “Gate Of The Time.” But a close second is the sign on the roller coaster offering half off prices to riders who are 60 years or older. I don’t think we’ll be seeing that innovation in the U.S. anytime soon.

Everywhere, of course, are sweets, and other odd German carnival foods. Cotton candy, cookies, crepes and the Nirvana that is Quarkkeulchen (fried dough balls with a bit of quark, like sour cream, in the mix). Lots of brats. Then also Grünkohl mash, and chicken livers. One of these days I’ll give these a try.

For a full report on the goodness of Christmascarnyfood, read Aimee’s post on our food blog, Hungry In Berlin, here.

But walk down the street a block or so and you’ll find the Operaplatz markt, quiet and placid, as though it’s a different century. Actual handcrafts are on sale here, and a booth with handmade German fruit brandies that are stunning, and just the thing to warm you up after a few too many dough balls.