• Germany edition
 
Behind the Christmas market holiday sparkle
Photo: Tracy Moran

Behind the Christmas market holiday sparkle

Published: 28 Nov 2012 07:38 GMT+01:00
Updated: 28 Nov 2012 07:38 GMT+01:00

Although German Christmas markets can now be found around the world, the real thing is less purely Teutonic than one might think – traders come from all over Europe to set up stalls at the markets across Germany.

Stuttgart’s market opens each year on the Wednesday after Remembrance Sunday, but like all the others, only after months of planning and an intense build week.

Bernd Bullinger has been the ringmaster of Stuttgart’s Christmas market for the past decade.

Although visitors meandering the 4,200 square feet of market area might feel the myriad of crafts and edibles on offer have come together by chance, Bullinger said he monitors the variety very carefully.

"My focus on the market is to get special, handcrafted products that shoppers can't find anywhere else," he said.

Demand for stall space is huge

Each year, the market hosts 285 traders, up to 90 per cent of whom are regulars. Demand for those spots which become vacant is high, with between 1,500 and 2,000 applicants for each one.

Bullinger is the one who has to strike a balance of products on offer.

If a wooden toy maker retires, for example, Bullinger tries to replace the seller with another of that type. "So, in the name of variety, even with 2,000 applicants, it's sometimes hard to find the right trader."

The other crucial matter which visitors might not immediately appreciate is the tricky hunt for big and beautiful enough fir trees.

Four large trees, between 25 and 28 metres tall, must be located, bought, transported and decorated each year. In recent years, the greenery has been found in the Schwabisch Alps. This year, the price tag came to nearly €25,000.

Trials of getting the right trees

"It takes some time to get proper trees," Bullinger said. "Often people will call to say they have nice trees, but when we get there we learn they're only about 10 metres high."

Touring the market with Bullinger on day two of the build-up, it is clear he is a one-man show – ensuring traders are in the right place, and all safety regulations are being followed.

"There could be 20 of me, and it still wouldn't be enough,” he said. Many of the traders are focusing on decorating the roofs of their stalls – a particular speciality in Stuttgart.

They bear greenery, sleighs, lights, moving figurines and much more. Traders have been known to spend thousands on the their rooftop displays, and the trend has developed in recent years into a friendly competition decided by a vote by visitors via a form in the city’s weekly newspaper.

Melanie Weber, 32, has a gingerbread stall in the Schlossplatz with nearly €5,000 worth of decorations on her roof. "We add something to the scene each year, costing about €1,000," she said. She seems to relish the competition but admitted to never having won the top prize. "Maybe this year," she said hopefully.

A Herculean effort to prepare the stalls

The traders make Herculean efforts to get their stalls ready on time. The build-up period might be full of jokes about taking Glühwein breaks but actually there was hardly a moment to spare.

Glass artist Alex Kogan, 50, and his stall manager Norbert Kuhnel, 60, said they had been working long hours to get everything done. "We finished last night at midnight and were back here this morning for seven," Kogan said.

"Building up is the hardest part," said Kuhnel, who will be alone at the stall for 10 hours a day through the entire 26-day run of the market.

"I love the market," says Kuhnel. "Just talking to people every day - with new faces and new little stories, talking about different stuff - it's nice to be here. I love the atmosphere."

Enrica Blessing, 37, who has had a stall selling olive oil bath products for the past six years made it clear there was not much time for taking breaks and socialising. "I believe the neighbour sells soup," she says jokingly, pointing out that she spends 10-12 hours in her stall, rather than out with the market visitors.

Yet even though she gets little chance to browse with the other shoppers, she said she loved being amidst them and seeing their cheerful faces. "It's a wonderful feeling when someone buys your product and is happy to do so," she explains.

Months of preparation

"People are happy here at the Stuttgart market, and that makes for a good feeling."

Although the four million or so visitors to the Stuttgart market may see it as a purely Christmas activity – to soak up the atmosphere and assuage looming present-list anxiety – it is a months-long endeavour.

Blessing and other craft stall holders have been preparing for months, making the products which will fill their stalls. The olive oil specialist said she began making her soaps, milks and body butters at least three months ago.

Glass expert Kogan said he starts planning as early as February when he and his team begin hand blowing candle holders and decorations for the next market season. "In January we get a bit of sleep," Kogan joked. And even Bullinger said he started planning in May.

This preparation can be seen in the regular restocking of stalls by truck and parcel delivery as there is little space for keeping extra stuff in the stalls. There is also the considerable matter of up to 500 busloads of people who arrive each day.

The management of all this – at markets across the country, and largely unseen by visitors – could be described as a minor Christmas miracle in itself.

Stuttgart details

Stuttgart’s market stretches through the heart of the city, open from 10am to 9pm. In Schlossplatz, children can bake, paint glass, ride a steam train around a miniature city, dip fruits into chocolate and decorate gingerbread cookies.

And for parents looking to get a bit of child-free shopping done, check out the free day care on offer at Stuttgart's city hall, from November 29 to December 22, Wednesday through Fridays from 3pm to 7pm and on Saturdays from noon to 4pm.

In Schillerplatz, visitors will enjoy finding unique, handcrafted products. Across from the town hall, with its window-based annual Advent calendar countdown, shoppers will find everything from toys to slippers. In Karlsplatz, meanwhile, those seeking older treasures will revel in the annual antique market, complete with expert appraisers.

Stuttgart's market runs this year from November 28 to December 23. For more information click here

Other Christmas markets in Germany

For more The Local's guide to German Christmas markets, click here. There is also an iphone app "Christmas Markets Germany" available here or for more information on Facebook click here.

The Local (news@thelocal.de)

Your comments about this article

Today's headlines
Oktoberfest 2014
Fights and a skinny dip kick off Oktoberfest
Photo: DPA

Fights and a skinny dip kick off Oktoberfest

Paramedics and police were kept busy at the opening weekend of Munich's Oktoberfest, treating hundreds of revellers and arresting dozens, though it was still considered a peaceful start. READ  

Child warriors, 13, leave Germany for jihad
A photograph from the jihadist affiliated group Albaraka News allegedly shows a fighter from the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) tying up an Iraqi soldier Photo: DPA/EPA

Child warriors, 13, leave Germany for jihad

Children as young as 13 are travelling from Germany to Syria and Iraq to join Islamic jihadists, according to German intelligence agencies. READ  

Germany rules out air strikes, troops in Iraq
Syrian refugees flee conflict to Turkey. Photo: DPA

Germany rules out air strikes, troops in Iraq

German Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier on Sunday said Germany would not be involved in air strikes or any ground offensive in the fight against Islamic State jihadists in Iraq. READ  

Oktoberfest 2014
Your guide to Munich Oktoberfest's food
Photo: DPA

Your guide to Munich Oktoberfest's food

The Local's final and fourth guide to Oktoberfest tucks into some the finer victuals on offer. READ  

Bundesbank warns of ECB 'change of course'
Bundesbank chief Jens Weidmann: Photo: DPA

Bundesbank warns of ECB 'change of course'

The head of Germany's powerful Bundesbank sharply criticised what he called a radical new approach by the European Central Bank of easy money, in an interview published Sunday. READ  

MH17 Crash
Families of German MH17 victims to sue
Australian and Dutch investigators examine a piece of debris of Malaysia Airlines Flight MH17 plane. Photo: EPA/DPA/ Igor Kovalenko

Families of German MH17 victims to sue

Relatives of German victims of downed Malaysia Airlines flight MH17 plan to sue Ukraine and its president for criminal negligence for not closing the country's airspace, a lawyer said Sunday. READ  

Sport
Wonder goal puts new boys Paderborn on top
Paderborn players celebrate after defeating Hanover 2-0 to go top of the Bundesliga. Photo: DPA

Wonder goal puts new boys Paderborn on top

Promoted Paderborn went top of the Bundesliga helped by an extraordinary 80-metre strike at Hanover on Saturday as champions Bayern Munich were held to a goalless draw by struggling Hamburg. READ  

Oktoberfest 2014
Oktoberfest opens to toast millions
Celebrities Carolin Reiber and Marianne Sägebrecht raise their glasses at Oktoberfest 2014. Photo: DPA

Oktoberfest opens to toast millions

Germany's world-famous Oktoberfest kicked off on Saturday with the traditional tapping of the first barrel of beer. Millions of revellers are set to soak up the frothy atmosphere in the 16-day annual extravaganza. READ  

Germany plans air lifts to help fight Ebola
A Liberian man holds his daughter as they wait for treatment for suspected Ebola symptoms in Monrovia. Photo: DPA

Germany plans air lifts to help fight Ebola

Germany and France will send military transport planes to West Africa to help efforts to contain the Ebola epidemic, Chancellor Angela Merkel and military officials said on Friday. READ  

Germany beefs up asylum rules for Balkans

Germany beefs up asylum rules for Balkans

Germany made it harder Friday for people from Bosnia-Herzegovina, Macedonia and Serbia to apply for asylum after lawmakers classified the three Balkan countries as safe, with respect for basic rights. READ  

RECEIVE OUR NEWSLETTER AND ALERTS
Photo: Joanna Drath, University of Tübingen
Society
Europeans descended from three tribes
Photo: DPA
Culture
Your guide to Munich Oktoberfest's tents
Photo: DPA
Hamburg
Drunk teachers ruin school trip to Hamburg
Marks & Spencer
Sponsored Article
Fashion Ladies of the Local: Win a New Autumn Look
Photo: DPA
Gallery
Oktoberfest 2014: The best and worst in dirndl fashion
Photo: Shutterstock
Gallery
Ten German words you'll never want to hear again
Photo: DPA
Education
German universities tumble in global rankings
Photo: Shutterstock
Business & Money
The three types of firms hiring foreigners
Photo: DPA
Berlin
Frisky couple shock Berlin commuters
Sponsored Article
Bilingual education from nursery to graduation at Phorms
Photo: DPA
Business & Money
JobTalk: All you need to know about working in Germany
National
Share news tips with The Local Germany
Latest news from The Local in Austria

More news from Austria at thelocal.at

Latest news from The Local in Switzerland

More news from Switzerland at thelocal.ch

Latest news from The Local in Denmark

More news from Denmark at thelocal.dk

Latest news from The Local in Spain

More news from Spain at thelocal.es

Latest news from The Local in France

More news from France at thelocal.fr

Latest news from The Local in Italy

More news from Italy at thelocal.it

Latest news from The Local in Norway

More news from Norway at thelocal.no

Latest news from The Local in Sweden

More news from Sweden at thelocal.se

3,315
jobs available
Toytown Germany
Germany's English-speaking crowd