Saturday 13 December 2008

Traditional German Market, Birmingham

LightAs they say in Germany: Hilfe. Ich bin durch die Elfe und morgens entführt worden, die im Digbeth Busbahnhof gehalten wird. Meine nur Mittel von ciommunication ist über diesen Blog. Retten Sie mich bitte.

Birmingham doesn't have the best of histories with celebrations at Christmas time. In the late 80's an attempt was made to brand the season as "Winterval". Not a bad idea as the festive season now seams to go on longer than any other but despite only happening for a couple of years, still finds it's way into the popular press at this time of year. You can always spot it in a story about BANNING Christmas to appease MUSLIM terrorists or some other made up tale filling tomorrows chip wrapping. The city now proudly proclaims it is celebrating crimbo and to prove it for many years has hosted the largest tradition German market outside the Rhineland.

Big SantaWhat this means of course is the streets are filled with sheds. The sheds sell the sort of stuff only available at Christmas except for those that sell German beer and sickly hot wines. The former of course is for sale in any pub at any time but here you can buy it in the traditional continental litre measure instead of the good British pint. To be fair, I've seen one of these events in it's home and you really do get exactly the same thing. The shed are the same. The stuff for sale is the same and the beer is the same. In fact the only difference is that in Brum a few staff are recruited locally so Fraulein might have a Black Country accent.

But I am being churlish. 'tis the season to buy rubbish and there are few better places to do it than here. To loosten your purse string the beer kellers, now grouped well away from the steps in Victoria Square (health & safety gone mad I say), will help break down your resistance if required.

Iron Man On the Friday afternoon I visited it looked like half the office staff in the city had decided to knock off early for a bevy and the stalls were crowded. Were it not for the language heard you really would believe that you'd ended up in Germany as the atmosphere was fantastic. The place smelled right too. I'd only just eaten (a good English all day breakfast no less) which saved me from stuffing my face with odd names sausages and weird sweeties that would probably have been bad for me but oh so delicious. Food always smells better outside and this stuff worked its magic like nasal sirens. None of your dodgy market style burger and chips either, proper food which you wouldn't regret a couple of hour later. Unless temptation lead you to too many cakes or sweets of course...

There are incongruities - Queen Victoria probably feels right at home surrounded by all this. After all it was here husband, Albert, who introduced many of our festive traditions from his homeland and she wasn't un-german herself. On the other hand Anthony Gormley's Iron Man looks like its list has been caused by the arrival of a helter skelter landing like a rocket. The rusting figure contrasts well with the gaudy paintwork elsewhere.

Doggie MugsWandering along the stalls, I do feel a Scrooge like desire to ask "Why ?". The stuff on offer is very nice but mostly decorative and pointless. The kind of thing you buy as a gift rather than wanting it yourself. The recipient will like the present, because it looks nice, and then never take it out of the box again. But then I've never understood how shops that sell candles exist so perhaps I'm not the best judge of these things.

What I do know is that this is Christmas. Perhaps some Roy Wood or Slade playing in the background would top things off but you simply don't get much more atmosphere than this. Other cities may try, Manchester has a similar market corralled into a single square instead of filling all the streets like a market should, but Birmingham seems to do this best. Perhaps one day the Daily Mail will forgive them for Winterval.

Anyway, get in the mood with some more pictures on Flickr