Germany's Yuletide markets: The fight before Christmas

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

They are big business - but this year stallholders have been accused of putting cash before seasonal cheer by opening too early

Potsdam

The market organisers have turned the 18th-century stuccoed high street in the once royal Prussian city of Potsdam into what they call "a light and fairy tale fantasy land". Hundreds of imported fir trees line its length and 10,000 fairy lights sway in the breeze on their branches.

The smell of hot cinnamon and alcohol fills the air as stall holders, some dressed in Father Christmas outfits, ply customers with plastic cups brimming with Glühwein. Other vendors sell smoked meats, gingerbread biscuits, wooden toys and sugar-coated loaves of famous Dresdner Stollen Christmas cake.

It wasn't snowing in Potsdam yesterday, but loudspeakers blared out Bing Crosby's "White Christmas" all the same. The organisers behind the city's annual Christmas market had used every seasonal trapping to make the event a picture-postcard tourist attraction. Nearly a million visitors flock to the market each year.

But this year, instead of inducing waves of undiluted Christmas cheer, Potsdam's Yuletide market has provoked outrage and calls for a boycott. Protesters claim the market organisers and city government have colluded in putting commercial profit above the spirit of Christmas. Their crime, the protesters argue, was to open the market 10 days earlier than the traditional Christmas market starting date, which is on or after the first day of Advent.

Leading the objectors was the former regional state prime minister, Manfred Stolpe, a veteran Social Democrat politician who served as a Protestant Church official in former communist East Germany. "Not even the regime in the former communist East went this far," he said. "I hope there are plenty of people in Potsdam who will boycott the Christmas market."

The local Green party declared: "It is too early for Christmas markets." The Catholic and Protestant Churches complained that the market was set up before Germany's Remembrance Sunday, which occurred last week, and therefore showed no respected for those killed in two world wars. "Christmas markets should be held during Advent," said the head of the regional Protestant Church.

The city government's excuse was that it had simply acceded to the wishes of Potsdam's Christmas market stall holders who wanted to use the chance to trade on more days. He said he was following a national trend. "We were simply taking our cue from other cities like Hamburg and Heidelberg, which have also opened before Advent," said Potsdam's mayor, Jann Jakobs.

In Germany, the home of the Christmas market, about 2,500 markets are held each year, bringing in between €3bn (£2.4bn) and €5bn. They create seasonal jobs for 188,000 stall holders and their helpers. Their numbers are growing and they are opening ever earlier.

Hans-Peter Ahrens, the president of Germany's market stall holders association, is delighted by the boom: "I know the church encourages reflection, but I can only be reflective when the cash register is ringing," he told Der Spiegel magazine.

All big cities now hold Christmas markets, including those in the former communist east. Germany has also successfully exported the phenomenon to countries including Japan, the US and Britain – with Birmingham hosting what is believed to be the largest German Christmas market outside Germany.

But in Germany itself, the Christmas market has long been permitted to deviate from its Christian roots. In Hamburg the Reeperbahn red light district runs a pornographic Yuletide market where, for the past six or seven years, stall holders have sold a mulled wine nicknamed "virility punch" along with erotic pictures and wooden dildos made by a company specialising in "natural" sex toys.

The west German town of Bergisch-Gladbach has opened a Feng-Shui Christmas market, which ensures that customers avoid bad karma by creating a harmonious environment in which all stalls are grouped together according to what they sell.

But for the most part Germans seem to accept that nothing can stop the Christmas juggernaut from getting a little bit earlier each year. Phalanxes of chocolate Father Christmases, wrapped in red and white foil uniforms, line up on the shelves of German supermarkets as early as late September. Profits from these items alone are estimated to be around €94m.

By mid-October many stores are already bursting with an array of early Christmas goods. Could Potsdam's protest be the beginning of a backlash against uncontrolled Yuletide commercialism? Walter Angel, a 22-year-old Potsdam student, would like to think it is: "The best thing would be to open Christmas markets at the end of the summer holidays and keep them open until at least Good Friday," he said yesterday. "Then people would get so fed up with them that they would go back to being December-only events."

In numbers

718yrs The age of Europe's oldest Christmas market, in Vienna.

€5bn The amount taken annually at Germany's markets.

188,000 The number of seasonal jobs created each year in Germany.

Voices
A Russian hunter at the Medved bear-hunting lodge in Siberia
Save the tigerWildlife charities turn to those who kill animals to help save them
News
Davis says: 'My career has been about filling a niche - there were fewer short actors and fewer roles – but now I'm being offered all kinds of things'
PeopleWarwick Davis on Ricky Gervais, Harry Potter and his perfect role
News
i100
Sport
Frank Lampard will pass Billy Wright and equal Bobby Charton’s caps tally of 106 caps against
sportFormer Chelsea midfielder in Etihad stopgap before New York contract
PROMOTED VIDEO
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Arts and Entertainment
The first film introduced Daniel Radcliffe to our screens, pictured here as he prepares to board the train to Hogwarts for the first time.
booksHow reading Harry Potter helps children grow up to be gay-friendly
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from Aladdin is performed at the Tony Awards in New York in June
theatreBrit producer Lythgoe makes kids' musical comedy a Los Angeles hit
Sport
Usain Bolt of Jamaica smiles and shakes hands with a competitor after Jamaica won their first heat in the men's 4x100m relay
sport
News
Chancellor George Osborne, along with the Prime Minister, have been 'complacently claiming the economy is now fixed', according to shadow Chancellor Ed Balls
i100... which is awkward, because he is their boss, after all
Life and Style
A small bag of the drug Ecstasy
Health
Life and Style
Floral-print swim shorts, £26, by Topman, topman.com; sunglasses, £215, by Paul Smith, mpaulsmith.co.uk
FashionBag yourself the perfect pair
News
news
News
Netherlands' goalkeeper Tim Krul fails to make a save from Costa Rica's midfielder Celso Borges during a penalty shoot-out in the quarter-final between Netherlands and Costa Rica during the 2014 FIFA World Cup
newsGoalkeepers suffer from 'gambler’s fallacy' during shoot-outs
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
Standing the test of time: Michael J Fox and Christopher Lloyd in 'Back to the Future'
filmReview: A week late, Secret Cinema arrives as interactive screening goes Back to the Future
Extras
indybest
News
i100
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

(Senior) IT Support Engineer - 1st-3rd Line Support

£40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful IT service provider that has bee...

Wind Farm Civil Design Engineer

£55000 - £65000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: The Green Recruitmen...

Principal Marine Mechanical Engineer

£60000 - £70000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: The Green Recruitmen...

Principle Geotechnical Engineer

£55000 - £65000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: The Green Recruitmen...

Day In a Page

Save the Tiger: Meet the hunters tasked with protecting Russia's rare Amur tiger

Hunters protect Russia's rare Amur tiger

In an unusual move, wildlife charities have enlisted those who kill animals to help save them. Oliver Poole travels to Siberia to investigate
Transfers: How has your club fared in summer sales?

How has your club fared in summer sales?

Who have bagged the bargain buys and who have landed the giant turkeys
Warwick Davis: The British actor on Ricky Gervais, how the Harry Potter set became his office, and why he'd like to play a spy

'I'm a realist; I know how hard this business is'

Warwick Davis on Ricky Gervais, Harry Potter and his perfect role
The best swim shorts for men: Bag yourself the perfect pair and make a splash this summer

The best swim shorts for men

Bag yourself the perfect pair and make a splash this summer
Has Ukip’s Glastonbury branch really been possessed by the devil?

Has Ukip’s Glastonbury branch really been possessed by the devil?

Meet the couple blamed for bringing Lucifer into local politics
Dress the Gaza situation up all you like, but the truth hurts

Robert Fisk on Gaza conflict

Dress the situation up all you like, but the truth hurts
Save the tiger: Tiger, tiger burning less brightly as numbers plummet

Tiger, tiger burning less brightly

When William Blake wrote his famous poem there were probably more than 100,000 tigers in the wild. These days they probably number around 3,200
5 News's Andy Bell retraces his grandfather's steps on the First World War battlefields

In grandfather's footsteps

5 News's political editor Andy Bell only knows his grandfather from the compelling diary he kept during WWI. But when he returned to the killing fields where Edwin Vaughan suffered so much, his ancestor came to life
Lifestyle guru Martha Stewart reveals she has flying robot ... to take photos of her farm

Martha Stewart has flying robot

The lifestyle guru used the drone to get a bird's eye view her 153-acre farm in Bedford, New York
Former Labour minister Meg Hillier has demanded 'pootling lanes' for women cyclists

Do women cyclists need 'pootling lanes'?

Simon Usborne (who's more of a hurtler) explains why winning the space race is key to happy riding
A tale of two presidents: George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story

A tale of two presidents

George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story
Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover

The dining car makes a comeback

Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover
Gallery rage: How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?

Gallery rage

How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?
Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players

Eye on the prize

Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players
Women's rugby: Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup

Women's rugby

Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup