Weihnachtsmärkte #002, #003, # 004
Saturday 10th December
Today ended up being a bit of a Christmas market bonanza. First on the programme was a tiny arts and crafts fair being run by the Franco-German Youth Office, an organisation that works to strengthen relationships between French and German young people. There were just three rooms with a handful of stalls selling different handmade crafts, as well as the obligatory Glühwein and Kinderpunsch (“children’s punch” i.e. non-alcoholic). I went at the invitation of a colleague, who had a friend there selling beautiful paper, covered books, stationary etc. On the next-door stall, a small boy was meticulously crafting some sort of stick man out of old corks and pipe cleaners, under the watchful eye of ?Grandpa – after a bit of research, I can tell you that this is not just some kind of rite-of-passage German childhood activity, but that I was actually in the presence (and blissfully unaware of it) of an extremely famous Berlin street artist. In 2009 the natural health practitioner and yoga teacher Josepf Foos began creating tiny cork beings demonstrating different Hatha yoga positions – Yogis – and displaying them around Berlin, most notably on top of street signs. His aim was to try and encourage people to experience the peace and balance that yoga brings, to pause and appreciate their surroundings, rather than be swept along by the tide of every-day life in Berlin. Foos was inspired by the London street artist Slinkachu , who places his own small figures around the streets of London. I haven’t yet spotted any either in London or Berlin, but I will have to keep my eyes peeled. Or start yoga…
There was also a stall selling all manner of things hemp-related: hemp seeds, hemp flour, hemp biscuits, hemp chocolate brownie, hemp crêpes….Although hemp is a natural plant, it felt “wrong” given its association to cannabis, which got me thinking: when does a plant become a drug? It turns out that although hemp and cannabis both come from the same plant, hemp contains much lower levels (less than 1%) of THC, the substance that gives cannabis its psychoactive properties. Hemp is one of the earliest domesticated plants, and hemp seeds are actually incredibly nutritious; hemp is a superfood.
Next on the programme was the Christmas bazaar at the Foreign Office. It was a bit more like a flea market to be honest, but it was worth it to see inside the building; one of these large buildings with a huge central glass atrium, off which multiple offices branch. For those offices without windows looking to the outside world, the atrium even had trees and a water feature. As we approached an airport-style security station, I was a bit worried that my bottle of water might be confiscated, but luckily it made it through; there are only so many mugs of over-priced hot juice that one wants to buy in one day. We had a dutiful quick whizz around the stalls and then headed back out into the cold.
I then headed off for the highlight of the day – Weihnachtszauber at Gendarmen Markt. This “Christmas Magic” market is considered to be the most beautiful and popular Christmas markets in Berlin, attracting more than 600,000 visitors every year. Its location certainly helps – sandwiched between the matching French and German churches, with the Konzerthaus behind it, it takes some beating.
Controversially, you actually have to pay an entry fee to this Christmas market, but I felt I could stretch to €1. If one really objects, it is possible to visit between 11:00-14:00 on weekdays for free. We spent two and a half happy hours browsing the high-quality crafts stalls – Christmas decorations, pottery, leatherware, earrings (guess where temptation caught up with me…), candles, clothing etc.
There was also live music and dancing – I particularly enjoyed the young ballerinas, dancing to excerpts from The Nutcracker. I was struck by the fact that the lead ballerina was black – the fact that this even stood out was interesting; it made me realise that you don’t see many coloured ballerinas.
I decided that three Christmas markets was probably enough for one day, although when you consider that there are over 100 Christmas markets in and around Berlin, I’d have my work cut out to visit them all, even if I do stay here another 10 years. However, there was still room for more cultural activity, so next stop was a small community centre, where a presentation was being given on the world of Geishas. Apart from having seen the film Memoirs of a Geisha, this is a topic I know very little about, so I was intrigued to find out more. The speaker had prepared a really old school PowerPoint display, complete with sound effects and slides whizzing in at different angles. It took me back to the ICT room in secondary school. Still, her knowledge on the topic was impressive – she had clearly done her research. After highlighting various aspects of the different stages of a Geisha’s training (it takes 5 years to become a fully-fledged Geisha), their work, clothing and common misconceptions, we were introduced to the Japanese dancer Chihoco Yanagi, who treated us to some traditional Japanese dance, followed by a display of Kimonos. A someone unexpected but very enjoyable evening.