At this time of hyper-commercialism, the German mall is bucking the trend with a Christmas market that focuses on independent design brands and a changing roster of small-scale local makers, says Giovanna Dunmall
Christmas markets in German cities are a staple of the winter season. In larger towns there’s a Weihnachtsmarkt in almost every neighbourhood offering a selection of reindeer- and Santa-themed decorations, crafty gifts and hot foods and glühwein (mulled wine) that range from the high-end and traditional to the deeply generic.
In keeping with its original blend of hard-to-find and emerging fashion labels and pop-up stores selling everything from cleaning potions for canines to designer liquorice from Denmark, new concept mall Bikini Berlin has chosen to do things differently.
The mall is located just steps from the city zoo and bombed out Kaiser Wilhelm Memorial Church in a revamped modernist complex from the 1950s that now includes a hotel and the historic Zoo Palast cinema. Its Christmas market is composed of vendors and makers selected by the mall’s creative team or by DaWanda, Germany’s answer to Etsy with 6 million members and a healthy market presence also in Poland, Lithuania and the Ukraine.
On the morning I visit, some of DaWanda’s top sellers are present with offerings such as colourful aprons and resealable vinyl lunch bags for kids, moreish cake and biscuit mixes, witty calendars and beautiful sweaters made out of Alpaca wool. My favourite stall is selling Berliner Winter, an alcoholic potion best drunk piping hot and made of apple juice, vodka and spices. Also present is Bloomon, a seasonal flower delivery service with a pleasingly shabby chic aesthetic.
There’s a DIY workshop area where you can make origami vases and other objets for free and, upstairs on the terrace street, food stalls are serving pulled pork burgers, hearty goulash and a calorically explosive cross between a muffin and a waffle drenched in nutella and vanilla cream (among other toppings). Plus there’s a small curling rink that can be rented by the hour.
To keep things interesting, and because the makers are so small-scale and home-grown that they often don’t have enough stock to do several weeks in a row, the stalls will change every weekend. But even if you don’t find your perfect bracelet or vintage print among the Christmas stalls there is much to do and gawp at in the mall more widely, starting with the extraordinary views of the zoo’s monkey enclosure from the main hall.
Elsewhere in the mall there’s one of only two Gestalten stores anywhere. The Berlin publishing house, which made its name in design, art, architecture and photography tomes, recently branched out into homeware and uber-cool toys and accessories. Andreas Murkudis also has a store in Bikini (called AM+) and is one of the few notable and hip Berlin East retail success stories to make the foray into the “boring” West. The first bricks and mortar location of German fashion brand Odeeh is also here. Designers Jörg Ehrlich and Otto Drögsler use bespoke Italian fabrics and produce their clothes in Germany; the results are pricey but divine. Lastly two boutiques – LNFA and Promobo – specialise in offering genuinely affordable rack or shelf space to emerging fashion and product designers (respectively).
And that’s the most attractive thing about the Bikini shopping mall and its first ever Christmas market. It has tried (and mostly succeeded) to steer clear of the crass or commercial, and gone for quality, the handmade or hard-to-find instead. At this usually hyper-commercial time of year, it’s refreshing.
Images: Bayerische Hausbau