I love a Christmas Market. Nothing makes me feel quite as festive as when I’m clutching a mug of something steaming with a cinnamon stick floating in it. For that truly authentic feeling, you must be outside, wearing at least seventeen layers and feeling the end of your nose turn slowly from bright red to blue.
Having a late November wedding anniversary means we often use this opportunity to get away for a few days. We’ve visited Christmas markets in Bruges and Krakow, Edinburgh and York. We worked our way around eight of them in Vienna. We tried to find one in Costa Rica last year but had no luck. This year we’re heading to Aachen and Cologne to visit the traditional German Christmas Markets.
Ah, the German Christmas Markets. Why travel all the way to Germany, when us Brummies have our own German Christmas Market, right here on our doorstep? I’ll let you into a little secret. For the natives, the Birmingham Frankfurt Christmas Market is about as divisive as Brexit. Or the correct method of putting jam and cream on scones*.
*Always cream first.
There was a time when I used to get excited about seeing the singing moose (Twitter: @thechrismoose) appear. About the giant two-pint steins of beer. Foot-long sausages sticking out of six-inch buns. Tools made out of chocolate. The most garlicky garlic bread this side of garlicland. It used to be a staple work night out, the first Friday that it opened. Which used to always be the first Friday in December. Not the same week as Halloween and Bonfire Night. I’ve been there in torrential rain and gale-force winds. Queued for an hour at the bar. Spent the whole evening monitoring the location of our glasses, lest we fail to reclaim our deposit.
But those were the days before. Before I learned that Brum has a plethora of ace independent eateries and hostelries that deserve my money year-round**. Before I realised that voluntarily standing in a heaving crowd, being jostled against strangers splashing beer with abandon and breathing garlicky, sausagey breath into your face is not a fun way to spend an evening. Before the perimeter of the market needed to be guarded by ugly (but sadly necessary) anti-terrorist barriers. And before I lived in the city centre, and realised that I had to plot my route carefully throughout town, not only avoiding the ever-present construction sites but also the fairy-light-festooned huts and market traders in hi-vis vests and fingerless gloves.
**Check out this ace Bite Your Brum guide to where to eat and drink instead of the Birmingham German Market this festive season. I was going to do a similar guide but Laura knows her stuff so listen to her!
It’s not all bad though. For those that only venture into Birmingham occasionally, or for the tourists who are finally starting to see Brum as a viable city break option, the German Market is fun and festive. Come at the right time (a weekday, or early on a weekend) and it’s family-friendly. It’s located in one of the city’s most architecturally beautiful squares, housing the Town Hall, the Council House and the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery. And in this time of Euro debate, it’s a time to celebrate Birmingham’s relationship with its twin town Frankfurt.
The German Christmas Market in Brum looks set to stay. Brexit notwithstanding. And in 2019, there is not much else to rival it. We welcomed a traditional market in the grounds of St Phillips Cathedral (aka Pigeon Park) in 2018, but this has been shelved after just one year. The Big Wheel and Ice Rink have returned to Centenary Square after a hiatus relegated to Eastside. City Social returns from 28th November, in the Suffolk Street Underpass in front of the Mailbox. And Seasonal Markets are holding their festive one-day Christmas Feast at The Bond Company in Digbeth on November 30th.
And when we travel to Aachen and Cologne – and hopefully to many more Christmas markets in the future – we will try to be mindful of the city’s residents, trying to make their way past us shuffling tourists. There will be the inevitable research on the best places to eat and drink which don’t involve catching hypothermia at the same time. And where actual cutlery may be involved. And where drinks come in glasses/mugs that you don’t have to pay a deposit for.