As Temperatures Drop, Germany’s Favorite Winter Drink Warms Body and Soul

While it might very well be an unseasonably warm fall by German standards, it is bloody cold by mine. Having bid a reluctant farewell to Santa Barbara’s late seasonal blast of warmth, I soon found myself deposited in the middle of Berlin and its climatic equivalent on an Indian Summer. The difference is that Santa Barbara sees the temperature in the high 70s while in Germany it hovers in the 40s. But I didn’t let the cold deter me — I threw on my coat, bundled up my enthusiasm, and very briskly bounded from my friend’s apartment through a typically gray Berlin morning to the subway station.

No matter the season, Germans passionately embrace two age-old social traditions: smoking and drinking. And just like the former dominates indoor social gatherings, the later freely abounds out of doors. While the sight of people standing around a sidewalk-mounted imbiss (the German equivalent of a fast food vendor) or riding on the subway with a beer in hand takes a little getting used to, it is still far easier for me to accept than being immersed in the smoke-choked confines of a bar or café. As my friend and I wandered the wind-swept Freidricksaine flea market, I quickly found myself yearning for something with warming power to drink. But I didn’t want smoke with it.

With the brisk air now negating my jacket and nestling within the core of my skeletal system, fate seemingly threw me a hand. I noticed people walking toward me clutching white cups with steam bellowing from them. Was it coffee? But not even Italians clasp their coffee as endearingly as these people were embracing their folly. The further we progressed into the crowd, the more cups appeared and, as cold as I was currently feeling it didn’t matter if it was chicken soup (I am vegetarian), I had to hold one of those cups for myself. I had to feel the heat emanate through my hands and the steam drift across my face. I had to get warm.


Nestled amongst the stalls offering racks of vinyl records, remnants of East German and Russian military paraphernalia, and woolen overcoats that looked oh-so-warm was a table adorned with a large ceramic urn. And hovering around it were people with white cups! There it was and thankfully it wasn’t chicken soup. Nor was it coffee.

It was Germany’s favorite winter drink, Glühwein. The drink is a relatively simple affair consisting of hot red wine that has been embellished with cloves and cinnamon. The heat brings out the volatility of the alcohol within the wine, offering a warming sensation just like a good strong malt whiskey would. And the addition of spices offered a very feasible excuse for what essentially amounted to me drinking red wine at 10 a.m. in the morning.

For 1.50 € a cup, Glühwein certainly hits the spot. And for another 1 € you can add a shot of either rum or amadori. With cups in hand, my friend and I continued upon our increasingly merry way and marveled at the German foresight that abounded. The flea market circles a small square park in the middle of East Berlin. Two transects later we were halfway around the markets and looking for a place to dispose of our cups.

After negotiating the other two transects we had completed our loop and again found ourselves in front of the Glühwein stall. Two more cups and we were ready to go around again. It’s not a bad way to spend a day. And, by the way, it was all those laps of the market that made me feel so giddy, not the Glühwein.

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