Mince pies and mulled wine are being traded in for bratwurst and gluhwein across the country as German Christkindlmarkts give their Victorian counterparts a run for their money.
Birmingham’s Frankfurt Christmas Market is the largest German market in the world outside Germany and Austria. With 180 stalls, more than 3 million visitors, and generating nearly 90 million in economic activity, it’s even bigger than the Christmas market in Berlin, according to Birmingham city council.
So what inspired us to look to Deutschland for holiday inspiration? The big business of sausages and sauerkraut all started with one man – Kurt Stroscher – and his marketing plan.
Tasked with the job of advertising his home city of Frankfurt abroad, Stroscher decided to get away from the city’s image as a financial centre, and instead suggested exporting an authentic German Christmas market like the one running in Frankfurt since 1393.As its twin city, Birmingham seemed like the logical choice, and he persuaded skeptical German stallholders to ship their stands across the Channel and up to the Midlands. “We were the pioneers,” he told the BBC on a recent visit to a log cabin set up on Birmingham’s New Street.It turned out that Brummies loved the foreign food and festivities and the one-off event turned into an annual affair. Now, Frankfurt’s tourist office puts on four of the biggest German Christmas markets in the country – in Birmingham, Edinburgh, Manchester, and Leeds.
“Last year, almost 3 million people visited this market,” Stroscher told the BBC, “and it doesn’t cost Birmingham a penny.”
Frankfurt pays for all the policing, trash pick-up, and administration costs in return for being allowed to sponsor the event, he said.
“Our research shows that between 2000 and 2010, there was a 30% increase in British visitors to Frankfurt’s original Christmas market. And a lot of visitors decide to come when they visit German markets in the U.K. and want to see the real thing,” he told the broadcaster.
Birmingham’s Christkind bonanza is now copied across the U.K., with German, Austrian, and even French-run markets popping up from Brighton to Glasgow. Even British markets have begun to take on a Teutonic flavor.
More than a quarter of this year’s markets have only sprouted up since the recession began in 2009, according to Visit Birmingham.“It makes me proud to see what I started,” said Stroscher.