Oh look, it’s a lovely German Christmas Market! How quaint! How traditional! How sodding racist!
As hackneyed as any commercially-appropriated festive tradition, “German” markets are popping up all over the place. Initiated as a festive-ish postmillennial reason to temporarily fill up one of the disused bits of Leeds, they’ve spread far and wide so that every other pretender to the ‘Britain’s Second City’ crown has one. Even Birmingham. Yes.
German markets usually happen in November rather than in the run up to Christmas itself, because they’re on their way to a much more impressive gathering in Manchester – where they really love a bit of ersatz Bavariana. Either that, or perhaps November is cheaper. Yes, come to think of it, that’s it. I bet the stalls don’t pack up five days before Christmas in Frankfurt. I bet they go all the way until midnight on Christmas Eve.
The Weihnachtsmarkt can be relied on to give the very experience and ambiance of an authentic Bavarian street market, without ever selling a single trinket, a single knitted woollen novelty or a single Chinese-made wooden Christmas nativity scene. That’s because all of these traditional stalls, along with those selling candles, lamps, wood carvings, novelty honey or traditional (boring) toys, are essentially full of tat of the kind that nobody actually wants as a gift. I’d take the XBox, personally.
Where they’re making their money is in three key areas: fried goods, glühwein and the sorts of lager brands you can find in the warmth of every independent bar across any self-respecting city. The purveyors of the Christkindlmarkt would have you freeze your nutsack off queuing to enter an outdoor shed done up to look like a Santa’s grotto of fondest imagination, only to discover upon entry that it’s the same temperature outside as in, and you’ve essentially paid a fiver to stand in a wooden theme pub. There are no actual Germans here either.
Food-wise, we can surely rely on the traditional Bavarian staples of bunless pork burgers, fried sliced potatoes which reach an ambient temperature of zero degrees within 5 minutes of having been overcharged for, unpopular-looking pretzels, bratwurst, over-iced doughnuts and of course, erm, candy floss and garlic bread? Hang on – garlic bread? Isn’t that the French Christmas Market, yet to be commercialised?
And then there’s the glühwein, the warming, healing, alcohol-free alternative to having a good time. Mulled wine is a red wine ruined, in any language. Oh look! it’s served in a novelty mug! I do hope they washed it.
The Christmas market is a great new tradition, ruined only by everything they sell and the fact that it’s all a bit fakily not really all that German, and the fact that misappropriating and generalising about other people’s cultural traditions is a teeny bit icky. But equally, they must never stop because I really need my festive crowd-dodge amongst a bunch of sheds.