Up until the end of last week, I was so buried in work that I couldn’t do anything as luxurious as write a blog.  Coming up for air, I was greeted by my great friend Julia, who came to stay.  All further work was put on hold while I tried to give her a flavour of my kind of Berlin ie. lots of cheap venues, a couple of Christmas markets and loads of time talking and getting lost on the U-bahn (and enjoying it!).  We managed to catch a couple of great moments – we arrived very early for the Christmas Market in Rixdorf – sort of little village in the middle of the city, right off Karl-Marx-Strasse.  Most Christmas Markets are plainly commercial, stand after stand of Gluhwein and German hot dogs, with some expensive hats and trinkets, but Rixdorf’s Market only happens on one weekend in December, and is a local fundraiser, so stalls are all manned by locals who have made the goods on sale for the schools/hospitals/clinics/kindergartens in the area.  It had a marvellous atmosphere, tremendous stuff for sale and a brass band playing German Christmas music, along with children playing musical instruments at various corners.  The place was full (perhaps a little too full) of German families doing Christmas shopping, enjoying meeting neighbours and having the odd glass of cheer.  For me, it was such an antidote to all the commercial markets I’ve been to, and I’m so glad we got there.

On the Sunday night, we dropped in to Clarechen’s Ballhaus, which is a dance venue that has different dances every night – Tango on a Tuesday, Swing on a Wednesday and ChaChaCha on a Thursday.  We caught the tailend of the Sunday afternoon Christmas Tea Dance/Ball.  Older women barely able to walk were fantastic at dancing the Tango with such elegance, all dressed in black.  After Julia had left, my dear friends Jo and Martin came to Berlin for a few days and I tried to repeat the experience in Clarechens Ballhaus, only to find that it was booked solid this week, with Christmas work parties.  However, we found both a Christmas market and a Swing Club/Restaurant in the Kulturbrauerei, a huge converted brewery that houses lots of different venues, including clubs, bars, restaurants, theatre and cinema.  They stayed right by Brandenburger Gate, a great position, but unfortunately, the whole of Unter Den Linden down almost as far as the river is a mass of road works which blocks the view of linden trees covered in fairy lights.  Between Julia leaving and Jo & Martin arriving, reality arrived and I had to catch up with the workload.  It meant that I saw less of Jo & Martin, since I had college until late each day, but Martin, being an old Communist, had visited East Berlin back in the day (and had performed in der Volksbuhne, no less, with an Irish ballad group!), so knew his way around.

Today I’m coming up for air again, and I can see the work clearly, but Christmas is really really just around the corner.  Barry and Clare fly over 23rd, and we have a lovely itinerary worked out.  The German Christmas is obviously on 24th, and everything closes from noon on 24th, people go home to their families, and have their Christmas dinner that night, light the candles on the Christmas tree, and give presents.  The 25th and 26th are what they call second Christmas day and third Christmas day, but they are only bank holidays:  all museums are open, most bars and some restaurants are open, though most big shops are closed.  I have found a lovely traditional German restaurant, nicely clattery and full, where we are booked to have dinner on 25th – our first Christmas dinner out! Since Clare is only here for a week, going home for New Years Eve, I think a few museums/art galleries are in order. I really can’t contain my excitement, but have to get the work out of the way so that I can really indulge myself and them.