The Manchester Christmas market is officially open!
This Christmas market has been referred to as a “European” market by some and a “German” market by others. It is an attraction on its own for all the Christmastime tourists in the UK, being one of the largest Christmas markets in the country. But what is it that makes this market so attractive?
It could be the gargantuan Santa Claus watching over you, knowing when you have been good or bad. It could also be the poffertjes, the mini Dutch pancakes, or it could be the incredible amount of German goods at your fingertips. Actually, the Manchester Christmas market is advertised as being famous for having one of the best “traditional bratwursts” with an “international atmosphere with a uniquely Mancunian flavor” according to the official UK Christmas market website.
When walking through the market you find the fresh scent of bratwursts, Glühwein and Feuerzangenbowle.
German words are plastered all over the Christmas market — in the original German spelling, no translations, and no made-up words. In fact, I would go as far as to say the Manchester Christmas market has managed to become more German than the actual German markets.
As I walked through the Christmas market with some German friends, I could not help but look at their faces. They were all smiling, laughing pointing at all the German words and some said they almost felt at home. “The smell of Glühwein is the smell of Christmas to me,” said a German Erasmus student, “I wouldn’t think that a Christmas market in the UK would be so German!” Sarah-Lena Knust, a German exchange student at the University of Manchester said that she was “surprised that everything was in German spelling, even Feuerzangenbowle, which is a hard word to pronounce for non-German native speakers.”
Why is the Christmas market in Manchester so German? Christmas markets originated in Germany and Austria, as part of the regular, open-air street markets where the locals sold goods all year-round. Traditionally, the Christmas section of the markets started at the beginning of Advent and lasted the four weeks that lead up to Christmas day. During this time, there were seasonal items, like mulled wine and gingerbread. Today you can find at least one Christmas market in every German town, from the smallest village to several markets spread across larger cities like Berlin or Munich.
“They even have Feuerzangenbowle,” said another German student, “those aren’t even allowed in most markets in Germany!”
The Feuerzangenbowle is a traditional German alcoholic drink, normally associated with the Christmas markets. Many mistake this drink for the same thing as Glühwein, or mulled wine, and although it does have mulled wine as its main ingredient, there is one element that bans it from most German Christmas markets: fire.
Feuerzangenbowle involves a rum-soaked sugarloaf that is set on fire and set over the mulled wine to slowly drip into it. It sounds like a lovely, warming drink to have during the cold Christmas season — and it is. Most cities and villages in Germany, however, have found that setting a sugarloaf soaked in alcohol on fire over more alcohol is a potential fire hazard. The German people still happily make this drink in their own homes, where the fire cannot be blamed on the city.
It was of no surprise that my German friends were in complete awe and fascination of a British city Christmas market that not only publicly sells this drink, but sells all kinds of German foods, beer and meats.
The Christmas market tradition was brought over to the UK by several German people who decided to carry the Christmas tradition over to new territory. The BBC wrote an article in 2014 about a woman named Edith Lovegrove, a woman from Cologne, Germany, who was one of the first people to bring the German Christmas market to the UK. The Christmas markets are such a popular tradition in Germany and there was nothing like it here. 17 years later, the markets seem to be going stronger than ever.
I interviewed Marcus, a German native who runs the Bavarian Käsespätzle (German cheesy pasta) stall here in the Manchester Christmas market. Marcus is from the very south of Bavaria, an area near Lake Konstanz. “I had a colleague in Germany who did markets there,” said Marcus, “he was involved in setting up the stalls [in the Manchester Christmas market] 15 years ago and he asked me [to set up a stall].” Marcus said his friend told him that, “there was no German cheese and they needed a German cheese stand in the market.” Every year Marcus comes to set up his stall and work at the market every day until Christmas, when he packs up his stall and goes back to Germany. “At first I said yeah let’s try,” said Marcus to his friend’s request, “and now I have been doing this for 15 years.”
Marcus is not the only vendor from Germany. While walking around the market with my German friends, they were all stunned at the amount of German spoken. They were also quite shocked at how stereotypically Bavarian the “German” aspect of the market seemed to be.
“What I found a little annoying,” said Knust, “is that there are a lot of stalls portraying Bavaria.” She approached the vendors themselves to ask about it. Being a German native not from Bavaria herself, Knust wanted to know why everything was so stereotypically Bavarian. Knust said: “They said they used this because people have a better known association of Germany with Bavaria than Swabia for example,” it was “for marketing reasons.”
The other German exchange students I was with said that the market almost “felt more like Oktoberfest than an actual Christmas market.” One of them, Milena Rüschendorf, said “the vendors here wear the stereotypical Bavarian clothing instead of normal clothes as they would in Germany.” The vendors with the traditional Bavarian clothes are usually only found in the renowned Oktoberfest in Bavaria, Germany. Although not representative of the country as a whole, Christmas markets, especially the Mancunian one, are still associated with Germany.
One could say that it is the “Germanness” of the market that has made it so attractive within the recent years. The Manchester market, according to the BBC, has over nine million visitors every Christmas season. With over 300 stalls, it is uniquely larger than the rest of the markets found within the UK.
Germany is also credited with having created the tradition of the Christmas tree. With both the Christmas tree and Christmas markets, Germany seems like the birthplace of the common symbols we associate with Christmas. As German as the Manchester Christmas market may seem, it is still a quite international market. There’s Italian pizza, Spanish food and hot sangria, Hungarian goulash, along with many other European foods, drinks, and stalls — something that would not be found in traditional markets in Germany.
If that Christmas spirit can be felt, smelt, and eaten in the Manchester Christmas market, with its unique Mancunian taste, then it seems like a great place to holster that Holiday spirit. You can visit the Christmas market in Albert square from 10am to 9pm each day and make your own observations of the ‘Germanness’, or not, of one of the oldest European Christmastime traditions.
Photo: Maria Ortega Rechkemmer