Nutcracker makers get ready for Christmas rush

As December draws closer, Germany's nutcracker manufacturers are gearing up for the Christmas season. Near the Baltic coast, one man is keeping to traditional techniques to make figurines with a nautical twist.

Nutcracker makers get ready for Christmas rush
Northern nutcracker-maker Heinz Krätzel. Photo: DPA

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Heinz Krätzel set up shop in the eastern state of Mecklenburg Western-Pomerania 30 years ago, where he has been handcrafting one of Germany's most loved knick-knacks – nutcrackers – ever since. Each one takes 20 hours of toil on his 150-year-old workbench.

Since being developed in the 1870s, nutcrackers have become one of the most recognizable symbols of a German Christmas.

And around this time of year, traditional German nutcrackers appear in shops and markets everywhere, painstakingly painted as kings, soldiers and foresters.

“There's not much demand for anything exotic,” said head of the Erzgebirge craftsman association in eastern Germany Dieter Uhlmann.

But living by the sea, 69-year-old Krätzel feels that his customers feel little affection towards forest-based nutcrackers. In the face of scepticism from his conservative craftsmen peers, he makes around 300 alternative versions each year.

His nutcrackers, all carved and painted by hand in his Dorf Mecklenburg workshop, are pirates and fishermen. They are intricately painted Vikings, curvy sea wenches and ship elves. And this year, he has branched out to land-based firemen.

Like many other small manufacturers, Krätzel starts work long before the festive season. In March he bought a truck-full of fir tree branches and started dreaming up designs. “I read an incredible amount, including fairytales, fables and children's books,” he said.

Christmas markets are set to open next week, and Krätzel will be in Hanseatic town of Wismar. He is there every year and his stall has become one of the most popular. Other markets have, he said, tried to poach him, but he is staying put for as long as he can keep carving.

CLICK HERE for photos of the nutcrackers



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German Christmas market closures ‘can’t be ruled out’: health expert

As Germany battles a fierce Covid wave, concerns are growing over events, with one health expert saying closures of the country's beloved Christmas markets can't be ruled out.

Revellers enjoy mulled wine at the 'Santa Pauli' Christmas market in Hamburg on November 15th.
Revellers enjoy mulled wine at the 'Santa Pauli' Christmas market in Hamburg on November 15th. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Marcus Brandt

Martina Wenker, president of the Lower Saxony Medical Association, said she believed Christmas markets may have to be cancelled if the Covid-19 situation gets worse in Germany. 

“Depending on the regional incidence situation, closures should not be ruled out in extreme cases,” Wenker told the Neue Osnabrücker Zeitung.

“We can’t stand by and celebrate while next door in the hospitals, planned operations have to be postponed frequently, corona patients are dying, and staff in practices and clinics are at their limits.”

Wenker said regional leaders allowed the opening of Christmas markets on the basis that the Covid situation was moderate.

“But if we reach higher levels of escalation, we will have to consider whether Christmas markets are still justifiable,” she said.

Germany on Tuesday reported 32,048 Covid infections within 24 hours and 265 Covid-related deaths. The 7-day incidence increased to 312.4 Covid cases per 100,000 residents. 

READ ALSO: Germany’s Covid incidence tops 300 for first time

‘Maximum safety’

Bavarian state premier Markus Söder said on Monday that he wanted to ensure there was “maximum safety” around Christmas markets.

He said it will be among the topics discussed at the Covid crisis talks between the federal government and state leaders this Thursday. 

In general, Söder said mask requirements should remain at Christmas markets as well as distance rules and other protection measures. 

In an interview with broadcaster Bayern3, Söder explained that so far there is no legal framework for Bavaria to cancel Christmas markets. “At the moment, we cannot legally order it,” he said.

Some Christmas markets, which have recently opened to the public, are already enforcing strict rules such as excluding the unvaccinated from entry, or not serving alcohol to people unless they can show proof of vaccination or recovery from Covid. 



Christmas market – (der) Weihnachtsmarkt

Celebrate – feiern

Planned operations/procedures – geplante Eingriffe 

Postponed – verschoben

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