Why consider a Christmas trip to the German markets? Finding out was one reason for my trip to Frankfurt and Mainz, so with my best investigative journalist’s notepad, I went to discover what those traditional festive markets offered that Birmingham’s don’t.
If you’re interested in saving money, that’s your first reason. You don’t just have to worry about the pickpockets operating at the Birmingham markets, a few more pounds are also snatched per item at the stalls. In England we love exotic “speciality items”, add a few hard-to-pronounce names, and we’re glued.
Take, for example, Glühwein; alcoholic, warm, and it has strange letters. Fantastic! We think, this seems cultured plus it takes the edge off a cold day. Birmingham charges you £4 for the pleasure (and a £3 deposit for the fancy mug), While in Frankfurt you’ll pay just €2.50, and in Mainz a mere €2. Mainz is cheaper because it caters for a mainly local market, and avoids the tourism Frankfurt attracts.
The Germans are known for quality items, and not just the cars. Wanting to pay attention to detail, I selflessly sampled Glühwein at each market. Its luring aroma of spices wafting through the streets attracts customers by the dozen, and I was not impervious to its charm. Mainz was by far the best; rich and aromatic, I felt obliged to sample a few mugs worth. Birmingham was the least impressive; expensive and mass-produced, the smell was almost more satisfying than the taste.
A German friend divulged the secret for this difference in quality; the grapes of the Rhineland provide Frankfurt and Mainz with their wine, and in the smaller cities individual stallholders create their own mixture of spices. This is different to Frankfurt, where one director controls the majority of stalls.
Spirits more your thing? For a bit of a kick, many hot drinks are offered with a shot of Jägermeister for a couple of euros. Not often seen at the Birmingham markets, its worth a try, but be cautious of sampling too many at the same time as the Glühwein, your head could be aching the next day. Not that I know by experience of course…
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Unlike in Birmingham, I wasn’t continuously swerving around huge jugs of beer in the crowds. This is because in Germany it wasn’t really on offer, despite being a stereotype of the country. The only beer I found available was a speciality strong percentage beer, not so often seen in the pubs. No fear though – you’ll still find plenty of regular pubs selling a huge selection of beers.
The apparent love for all things herby was widespread at the markets. Sucking on something that claimed to be “elderflower, sage and honey” I observed the many stalls selling “kräuter bonbons” (herb sweets), bags of herbs, spices and various teas; something which is common in Germany, a large variety of teas and herb sweets are commonly found in most supermarkets. In Birmingham the sugary toffee apple and Haribo stalls populated most sweet stalls, and the herb-blend sweets seem to have been left behind.
I know that I will return again to bask in the (neon-) light of the German Weihnachtsmarkt, and I hope that I have convinced you all to as well. I have mentioned but a few reasons why it is completely worth your while, and I assure you, you would find many more should you go yourselves. The markets in Germany are so rich in atmosphere and high in festivity, that even the scrooges out there should feel a little festive on the inside. Although that could just be the Glühwein, of course…!