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CHRISTMAS

Drive-ins and scattered huts: How German Christmas markets are finding ways to stay open

Most Christmas markets around Germany were cancelled this year amid the countrywide partial lockdown in place until at least late December. But several have found creative ways to operate.

Drive-ins and scattered huts: How German Christmas markets are finding ways to stay open
An employee at the Landshut Christmas market wears a protective mask. Photo: Christof Stache/ AFP

Chestnuts roasting, mulled wine steaming and music blaring from wooden chalets lined with artificial snow — the Landshut Christmas market in southern Germany has all the usual trimmings.

But this year, visitors must enjoy the sights and smells of the traditional Christmas market from inside their cars due to precautions to prevent the spread of Covid-19.

READ ALSO: What will Christmas 2020 be like in Germany?

Every night after dark, several dozen vehicles roll into the Christmas market drive-in, their occupants cosy and socially distanced inside.

Once through the gates, they must wait for an employee wearing a mask and Christmas hat to knock on their window and offer them a menu of savoury treats to choose from, such as crepes, sausages and roasted chestnuts.

Cars at the drive-in Christmas market in Landshut. Photo: Photo: Christof Stache/ AFP

Orders placed, they can then drive on to the next hut offering sweets such as candy floss or gingerbread hearts.

“We take our inspiration from fast-food chains,” smiles Patrick Schmidt, 31, market organiser and owner of the Zollhaus Landshut restaurant.

“We wanted to recreate a bit of the Christmas atmosphere, even if it's more complicated this year.”

The market is a way of helping his business get through “a difficult time”, he said.

Billions at stake

As Germany battles a second wave of coronavirus infections, leisure and sporting facilities have been ordered to close while restaurants and bars can only offer takeaways.

The restrictions also include limits on social gatherings and have been a huge blow to Germany's 3,000 or so annual Christmas markets.

The markets have been an annual fixture in Germany since the 15th century, when craftsmen and bakers were given special permission to ply their wares in town squares in the run-up to Christmas.

READ ALSO: Will travel in Germany be allowed at Christmas?

But many German cities have cancelled their Christmas markets entirely this year, despite the huge financial losses — the markets draw about 160 million visitors annually and bring in revenues of €3 to €5 billion, according to the BSM stallkeepers' industry association.

To keep the spirit — and the economic benefits — of Christmas alive, cities across the country have come up with creative initiatives.

500 cars

In Berlin's Charlottenburg-Wilmersdorf district, small clusters of huts have been spread across several streets, though food and drink cannot be consumed on site.

“25 stands spread out over the Berlin district” reads this Tweet about this year's untraditional Christmas market.

The world-famous Nuremberg Christmas market has been cancelled this year but managed to hold an online version of its traditional opening ceremony.

And in north-western Germany, the town of Kalkar is also offering a drive-in Christmas market.

The market in Landshut has been open since mid-November and is proving popular with locals, according to Schmidt. “Last Saturday we had 500 cars,” he said.

And they're not just here for the mulled wine, served in thermos flasks to keep it warm — many are coming with the whole family in tow.

“I'm here to support the restaurants, because I miss them,” said Markus Renneke, 55, visiting the market with his wife. “And I think it's a great idea.”

Sandra, joined by her teenage daughter Laura, is here to enjoy that special Christmas market “atmosphere”.

“You have to put a bit of time aside and there are no stands selling anything but food, but that's OK,” she said as a waitress arrived with two grilled sausages.

Her daughter, “starving”, cannot resist starting to tuck into her sausage before the final stop: the checkout.

Once they've settled up, customers are free to return home basking in the glow of mulled wine — apart from the designated drivers, of course.

By Pauline Curtet

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HEALTH

EXPLAINED: The new rules around getting a sick note over the phone in Germany

Due to high Covid infection numbers throughout the summer, it’s now possible to get a sick note from a doctor over the phone again for some illnesses. Here’s what you need to know.

EXPLAINED: The new rules around getting a sick note over the phone in Germany

What’s happened?

In spring 2020, German authorities changed the law so that people with a mild upper respiratory tract illness, such as the common cold, were able to get an incapacity to work certificate or AU-Bescheinigung by simply calling and speaking to their GP.

The rule was extended several times and finally reversed on June 1st this year due to falling infection figures. Since then people have had to go back to the practice – or do a video call if the doctor’s office has that system in place – to get a sick note.

Now, due to a decision by the Joint Federal Committee, the regulation has been reintroduced and patients can call their GP again for a sick note.

Can I get a sick note over the phone for any illness?

No. As before, the regulation only applies to patients suffering from a mild upper respiratory tract illness. Though Covid has not explicitly been named in the announcement, it seems that it is intended to be covered by the regulation.

If the doctor is convinced that the patient is unfit for work after a telephone consultation, then they can issue a sick note for up to seven days.

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: The changes around doctor’s notes in Germany you should know

If the symptoms persist after seven days, the certificate can be extended once more for another week.

Why now?

According to the Chairman of the G-BA, Josef Hecken, the regulation has been introduced now as a response to rising Covid numbers and in anticipation of the cold and flu season in the coming months: “We want to avoid full waiting rooms in doctors’ offices and the emergence of new infection chains,” he said.

The telephone sick leave rule is a simple, proven and uniform nationwide solution for that, he said. The rule is also necessary because video consultation hours are not yet available everywhere.

What else should I know?

The health insurer DAK is calling for telephone sick leave in the case of light respiratory diseases to be made possible on a permanent basis in Germany. DAK’s CEO Andreas Storm said that this should “not always be up for debate, because it has proven itself.” 

READ ALSO: Everything you need to know about making a doctor’s appointment in Germany

The social association VdK also welcomed the reintroduction of the rule. The VdK’s President Verena Bentele said that the regulation would help to protect high-risk groups in particular from potential infections.

What are the rules to know about sick notes in Germany?

Germany has a strict system in place. If you are sick, you need to give your employer a Krankmeldung (notification of sickness) before the start of work on the first day (of your illness).

However, you also need to hand in a Krankschreibung (doctor’s note) on the fourth day of your illness. Some employments contracts, however, require you to submit a sick not earlier than the fourth day so check with your boss or HR on that point. 

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