• Germany's news in English
 

Behind the Christmas market holiday sparkle

Published: 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
Germany heightens travel warning for Turkey
A view of Istanbul. Photo: DPA.

Germany heightens travel warning for Turkey

The German government has issued more severe warnings about travelling to Turkey after a string of terror attacks in the south of the country, and as Ankara intensifies conflict against two militias in Syria and Iraq. READ  

Fireman turned arsonist jailed for 3 years
Fire services extinguish an unrelated fire in Hamburg in 2011. Photo: DPA

Fireman turned arsonist jailed for 3 years

After a series of arson attacks over several months, an ex-fireman has been sentenced to three years in jail without chance of bail. READ  

Mother slams IKEA for rejecting autistic son
Photo: DPA

Mother slams IKEA for rejecting autistic son

A mother from North Rhine-Westphalia has accused furniture chain IKEA of debasement, discrimination and marginalization – after employees in their Dortmund store refused to let her autistic son into the children's play area. READ  

Wallaby goes walkabout in Berlin outback
Photo: Gemeinde Nuthe-Urstromtal

Wallaby goes walkabout in Berlin outback

A woman in a village south of Berlin was shocked to find a rather unusual visitor in her garden on Tuesday. But by the time police got there he'd already bounced. READ  

Munich upholds ban on Jewish 'memory blocks'
A pedestrian walks by a group of Stolpersteine. Photo: DPA

Munich upholds ban on Jewish 'memory blocks'

The Munich City Council said on Wednesday that it had voted to continue banning the placement of blocks commemorating Jewish Holocaust victims in city streets - a ban that garnered surprising support from Jewish community leaders. READ  

13-year-old boy detained for trying to join Isis
Batlle in Syria. Photo: DPA

13-year-old boy detained for trying to join Isis

A young teen from Munich was detained near the Turkish border with Syria on Friday as he was trying to join the radical Islamist group Isis. READ  

The Local List
Six odd ways Germans talk about the weather
Photo: DPA

Six odd ways Germans talk about the weather

Is it absolutely roasting, or raining cats and dogs? Neither if you live in Germany. Here are six wonderfully weird expressions Germans use to talk about the weather - some more literal than others. READ  

Little by little, Germans move away from cash
Photo: DPA

Little by little, Germans move away from cash

Tourists and business travellers visiting Germany are often surprised when they reach to pay for their beer, metro tickets or even a large restaurant bill that their credit cards are not welcome. Habits, however, are slowly changing as younger consumers leapfrog from cash to convenient electronic forms of payment. READ  

Satire and reality blur in parody party's strife
Martin Sonneborn. Photo: DPA

Satire and reality blur in parody party's strife

After winning a seat in the European Parliament last year on a commitment to 'milking Brussels,' satirical party Die Partei broke new ground. Now a 'Nazi Putsch' threatens to split the party asunder. READ  

Pelicans with wanderlust escape German zoo
These feathered fugitives took flight from the zoo to get a birds-eye view of the world. Photo: DPA.

Pelicans with wanderlust escape German zoo

A pair of pelicans with a serious case of wanderlust flew the coop from Osnabrück Zoo last week, only to find their way back days later. READ  

RECEIVE OUR NEWSLETTER AND ALERTS
Culture
Berlin restaurant serves up Greek Crisis Menu
Rhineland
Doctor on trial after woman wakes in morgue
Society
Six odd things Germans do in the summer
Sponsored Article
Outsourcing drives Apreel's Europe growth
Society
Police bust kinky Bavarian couple over painful love-making
Politics
Merkel brings Palestinian girl to tears
Hamburg
Amateur archaeologist finds Nazi gold hoard
National
Could Merkel learn a lesson in love from this doppelganger?
Travel
Why you should stay in Germany for the summer holidays
Sport
German press tell Schweinsteiger 'good riddance'
National
Hamburg gets a bouncing 100kg baby girl
Society
In North Germany, money sometimes DOES grow on trees
National
Hero mechanics stop Bavaria shooting spree
International
Denmark says that border controls are coming
National
Did hackers take control of German missile battery?
Politics
Munich gives gay pride green light
Business & Money
Berlin rent controls hit prices hard
National
Fighting to breastfeed in public without shame
Society
Ice cream for dogs 'gobbled up in one gulp'
Education
Are hotpants a feminist issue?
Rhineland
Lion cub reunited with mother
National
How the heatwave is cracking Germany's Autobahns
International
Why the French are more sympathetic to Greece than the Germans
Sponsored Article
Crans-Montana: International expat hub
Gallery
Police seize pensioner's WW2 heavy weapons haul
National
How to survive the Europe-wide heatwave
Sport
Is Schweini already out of the door at Bayern?
Politics
How German media shaped the Greece crisis
National
Car assembly robot crushes worker at Volkswagen
Rhineland
Weathermen red-faced over heatwave snow warning
Society
An eye for an eye? Mum protects child in playground with pepperspray
National
As it happened: Queen Elizabeth's final day in Germany
National
As it happened: Queen Elizabeth's second day in Germany
National
Queen Elizabeth II's first day in Germany - as it happened
National
Bus passengers tell fake racists where to get off
Politics
What's really in the Queen's handbag?
National
Germans say USA doesn't respect freedom
National
Yes, you CAN buy adult e-books before 10pm in Germany
VIDEO: Watch a 93-metre turbine crash to earth in slow motion
Gallery
Who's got a shot at the German Film Awards
Rhineland
Anger over 'child-free' beer garden
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

7,226
jobs available
Toytown Germany
Germany's English-speaking crowd