Culture: A Bad Tourist’s Take on German Markets

I remember the first time I ever heard of a German Christmas market.. I was in my mid-teens, and my older brother had a job working for a lady who ran a stall. I really had no idea what it was, but from his description, it definitely sounded wooden and unique, I was both shocked and disappointed to later find out that its stalls were run by English people. From then until now their popularity has blossomed in the UK, they are a mandatory part of any city’s Christmas festivities. They’re cute, and extremely Christmassy, and at night is a real pleasure to see. I often enjoyed going to them, but no matter how many times I visit I am always gutted when Germans aren’t running the place.

The idea of a little group of Germans travelling to England to set up a market was a childlike idea that I long hoped to be true: the reality that it was basically just a normal market, repackaged into a wooden box didn’t have the same charm to it. The contents of these newly packaged market stalls are sweet, but expensive. To the best of my memory I can’t remember the stalls hosting anything that is typically German, usually it’s just the same old stuff found in normal shops.

However the real German side of it is highlighted in the food. All these wonderful German meats and drinks are all new to English taste. But due certain life choices I am left to stroll around the gift shacks- hungry for chips. We English are renowned by Europe for lacking in a sense of culture, and generally being the joke of it all. So I wasn’t too surprised when I heard it through the grapevine that our German markets were nothing but a ‘commercialised joke’. This is a statement that I would have taken to my grave, if I had never had the opportunity to visit a real German market – in Germany.

I’ve recently had the pleasure of visiting about four different genuine German markets. Just like everything in Deutschland, they were a lot bigger, some showcasing incredible monuments and figurines. It was unbelievable to see a market of this style, in the backdrop of beautiful old German towns. Although one thing that did shock me was the stalls and products were much the same. Just general bric-a-brac, that’s good to wrap and receive at Christmas. Never once did a stall stand out as amazingly different, all was what I would expect to see at a market in the UK.

Also while there, I even have the chance to visit a Medieval German Market, which was absolutely huge! There they did sell rather odd trinkets from the Middle Ages, but much the same as an English Medieval fare. It is funny whenever I walk around German Market in England I always get the sense that it’s staged – made to look German, overdone. I was surprised when I had the same feeling in Germany. Just walking around seeing these overlay pretty huts, decorated to the nines, I just got the feeling it was a little staged. And maybe that’s because it just is: it’s Christmas: ’tis the season to overdo it.

There is, however, one factor that really sets the markets apart, other than the backdrop: the food. They had a lot more odd and fascinating food, like weird bread dough on a stick (I never got the opportunity to try it). It’s also nice to hear the native German tongue, although they are quick to slip into English if they learn you’re not a native. So don’t fear, when it comes to German markets, you’re not missing out on much in the UK, so I wouldn’t visit the country and this basis alone, but for the many other things that make Germany great and exceptional – like the German Beer festivals, they are really a pleasure that’s worth the travel alone. This is no detriment to the German markets – they are amazing, but I was surprised that the UK ones weren’t too far off the mark.