I am an unashamed fan of the Christmas Market, whether it is a small collection of wooden stalls in an cobblestoned square of some small town, or one of the countless versions that we can enjoy here in Berlin, and the four weeks of advent during which they operate is one of the highlights of my year. There is one particular market in Berlin, in the shadow of the opera house, that is called the “Nostalgie Markt” or nostalgia market, which got me thinking the other day as I strolled through the wooden huts, past the glühwein stands and intricate little wooden handicrafts, the smell of roasting chestnuts mingling with the meat on the grill as the big wheel turned against the backdrop of a Plattenbau, that in the end, aren’t all Christmas Markets “Nostalgia Markets” in a certain way?
It doesn’t matter if the backdrop is a block of flats and the four lanes of a city street are just a small stroll away, the Christmas Market always conjures up for me the image of wooden toys arranged in a village scene, of snow on fir trees and fairytales told by an open air and then I think – wow, this is not even nostalgia for something that I have actually experienced, but for an imagined childhood in an imagined place at some kind of imagined time, perhaps after steam trains but before the automobile, perhaps in a movie starring Julie Andrews, and then the crashing key change of “I wish it could be Christmas every day” breaks me out of this reverie and it is clear that it must be time for another glass of glühwein, this time with a shot of rum…
So yes, I like them for the nostalgia and the lights and the sausage stuffed in a too-small bread roll. I can live with the more kitschy elements (i.e. most of it) and it seems as if I am not alone. In the ten years I have been in Germany the Christmas Market craze has spread across the UK and Ireland – and it was a bizarre experience to discover a Bavarian barman tending the Paulaner pump in front of Belfast City Hall – and the number of markets here in Berlin seems to increase with every advent that comes around. It is a long way from the Middle Ages when this all began, in Dresden, Bautzen or Vienna (they will all lay claim to being the oldest), but the durability of the tradition is, I think, a reflection of the fact that the north European winter is long and dark and mostly likely completely unbearable without a couple of weeks of festivities to warm the soul as the shortest day of the year approaches and the first flakes of snow begin to fall.
Words & Pictures: Paul Scraton