Just like that, the year is almost over, and the 2017 Christmas season is in full swing! There’s nothing quite like the smell of pine needles permeating the living room to cue forthcoming festivity, and with 29,5 million Christmas trees sold in Germany last year, there’s little doubt that the humble Christmas tree remains the most festive and popular December household addition. When buying Christmas trees in Germany, there are a few things you’re going to want to know – check out our definitive guide below…
The humble history of the German Christmas tree
Where exactly did the idea of erecting a tree in one’s living room come from? Thousands of years before the advent of Christianity the Pagans employed branches from Fir trees to brighten the home during solstice. Even the Egyptians added a little greenery in the form of palms to worship their god Ra, as well as the Romans, who decorated their temples during the festival of Saturnalia. The Christmas tree itself however likely became popular in the mid-16th century thanks to Protestant reformer Martin Luther. As the story goes, Luther was walking in the forest a night before Christmas, saw the light shining through the tree branches and went home to tell his children that it reminded him of Jesus. From then on, people took Luther’s lead and added an evergreen tree to their living rooms. Not simply a German tradition, the popularity of adding a tree to one’s living room spread internationally, with the United States and United Kingdom leading the charge.
Timber versus plastic
Suffice to say, Germans are fond of wood – with over 90 billion old and young spruces, oaks, beeches, and firs throughout Deutschland, the forest is national symbol, the basis for much of the country’s 19th century Romantic-era poetry, fairy tales and legends.
When it comes to the yearly Christmas tree, whether or not to go with real or artificial is a crucial question. There are pros and cons to each. On the one hand, artificial trees can be purchased once and re-assembled each year; you don’t have to water them, and they won’t die if you place them next to your central heating. On the hand, they’re fake, they don’t smell Christmassy, and their eco-friendliness is questionable. In the end, nothing quite beats the smell, feel and cultural appropriateness of a bona fide timber tree.
Varieties, types and options
When it comes to choosing a tree, you’ll find are several types to consider:
- Nordmann Fir – The most popular Christmas tree, it will last up to six weeks and boasts shiny, soft needles.
- Noble Fir – With dense blue-green foliage, this is a hardy tree that easily lasts for weeks.
- Douglas Fir – Not as tough as some other Firs, with a tenancy to drop needles after two to three days.
- Korean Fir – A less common variety, the Korean Fir is beautiful when cared for well.
- Red Spruce – Delicate and appealing, the Douglas Fir doesn’t last as long at some other varieties, but is a popular tree offering extremely dense yet slender branches.
- Black Pine – Not your classic Christmas tree, this variety offers long needles, a pleasant scent and can last for longer than three weeks.
When to buy…
For years I’ve been a steadfast supporter of waiting until the very last moment to purchase my Christmas tree. This wasn’t out of laziness, but rather to avoid any untimely tree death only days into the festive season. Over time I’ve realised that with the right maintenance and care, a good quality tree can easily live four to six weeks (and sometimes even longer).
What size do I need?
When choosing the size of your tree you’ll want to consider a few things – how large is your flat, is it a furnished apartment, and what is the ceiling height? In Germany you’ll find there are a few different types of apartment buildings: Altbau (old buildings <1949), Neubau (new buildings >1950), Plattenbau (pre-fabricated homes, which often feature low ceiling heights, 1926>) and contemporary construction. Altbauten generally feature higher ceilings, whereas Neubauten and Plattenbauten can have limited ceiling heights. When renting a furnished flat in Berlin, you will need to check your ceiling height to determine the right size for your apartment.
The general rule for purchasing the right Christmas tree size is to pick one that is at least 20cm lower than your ceiling height. Measure your ceiling height with a tape measure to ensure you don’t purchase a tree that is too tall. Of course, the size of your tree will also be influenced by your budget, and a more compact tree can look just as magical when decorated and lit.
Tree size and width will vary depending on variety, but generally come in three options, full, narrow and slim. In furnished flats, you’ll want to consider the diameter of your tree in order to ensure the room remains liveable and comfy.
How much should I pay?
The price of your tree will vary depending on height and shape, but expect to pay between 15€ to 60€ for a 115 to 200cm high Christmas tree. You will also want to invest in a good stand to safely house your tree. I personally like the German-invented Krinner stands, which are simple and easy to use.
So, where do I find my Christmas tree?
If you’ve decided to adorn your Berlin apartment with a living tree, you’ll be wondering where to pick one up. Dedicated Weihnachtsbäummarkts pop up in shopping centre parking lots around the city, and offer a range of differently sized trees. Shops such as Bauhaus and Ikea also offer inexpensive trees, while online purchasing is becoming popular thanks to the added convenience of delivery. If you don’t have time to head out and pick up a tree from the market, check out these online stores: 123Tannenbaum and Tannen Express.
Keep in mind, there’s always the option of renting a tree too. Eco-friendly and sustainable, these rental trees (known as ‘wandering pines’), are in a sense ‘recyclable’, dug out of the ground with their roots intact, put into pots, and then replanted once the season is over. However, warm conditions of apartments over winter can easily destroy the tree’s delicate root system. To combat this, most companies acclimatise their trees to the heat first, and reacclimatise them to the cold afterwards. Once they’re replanted, they’ll recover for two years, before being dug up for another season. Check out Paderbäumchen and Green Tree for more info on rental trees.
Now I’ve got a tree, how do I get it home?
Obviously, this will depend on where you purchase it, and how far away from your flat it is. Most likely, a local tree market will be a short walk from home, and the tree can simply be carried back to your furnished apartment. If you live further away, you can rent a furniture taxi, or sign up for a car-share service such as DriveNow or Car2Go.
Placement and keeping it fresh
The secret to a lush Christmas tree is all in the care and maintenance. You’ll want to pay attention to where you locate your tree, along with how often you water it, what you feed it and, most surprisingly, how you decorate it (hot lights can dry out the branches).
The most common varieties of Christmas trees (fir, pine and spruce) don’t live long when exposed to hot temperatures. To combat your tree’s premature passing you’ll want to ensure you keep it away from excess heat. Opt for a cool and dark space away from damaging daylight or heaters. Additionally, watering your Christmas tree will ensure your Berlin apartment looks green and vibrant throughout the season. For a medium sized tree (approx.160cm) about two litres of water per day should do it. If you’re looking to be more specific the average tree absorbs about 950ml for each 2,5cm of its diameter.
Feeding your tree is a contentious issue. Some swear by it, and others deem it unnecessary. I heard of a range of options from commercial tree preservers to homemade preparations such as lemonade, glycerine, corn syrup and even aspirin. Personally, I don’t do it. Any living Christmas trees I’ve purchased have easily survived the full season with only daily watering.
Decorating a Christmas tree
Essentially, there are no rules as to when you can purchase and start decorating your tree. Traditionally, twelve days before Christmas was a popular time, whereas some put would start on December 6 in honour of Saint Nicholas. If you’re Catholic, you might wait until after noon on Christmas Eve. As with many traditions, they tend to fade over time, and these days it’s very much up to the individual. As a keen observer of all things Christmas, I generally aim to have a tree up in the first week of December, as soon as I locate a suitable one to lug home.
As well as baubles and tinsel, lighting is an important consideration when decorating your tree. Choose small LED lights that will emit a low heat, ensuring your tree doesn’t dry out prematurely.
Got a large budget to work with, and no time to decorate? These days there are plenty of services that offer pre-adorned Christmas trees to time-poor consumers. Expect to spend upwards of 200€ depending on the style and choice of decorations. Check out Weihnachts Baumversand (Germany-wide service) and Tannen Paradies (Berlin and Brandenburg).
Disposal and recycling
Two of the most common questions surrounding Christmas trees in Germany are when to take down your tree, and what happens to them once the season is over.
The traditional time to take down it down is January 6, aka Three Kings Day. Known also as Epiphany or Dreikönigsstag in Germany, this traditionally marks the twelfth day after the birth of Christ and the day the Magi (the Wise Men) arrived at the manger in Bethlehem.
But what do you do with it then? Depending on your district, the local council stipulate certain days where they will pick up your tree from the side of the road. You can find the scheduled dates here, or enter your address via this website. Remember to leave them un-bagged, un-crushed and by the road no later than six o’clock the morning of the pick up! Once your tree is collected they will be shredded and used to generate ‘green’ energy – offering a substitute to fossil fuels, an eco-friendly contribution to the energy grid.
As for all those unsold Christmas trees, for the last several years the Berlin council has repurposed them as elephant fodder, with the Tierpark Zoo taking the festive foliage and gifting it to their African and Asian elephants as a fun snack.
It’s good to know that everyone gets to enjoy the nourishing goodness of a Christmas tree in Berlin come Christmas time.
From all of us at Crocodilian, we hope yours is particularly special.
Merry Christmas, and Frohe Weihnachten!
– The Crocodilian Team