Right now, in the words of Billy Mack, Christmas is all around (if you need to ask Google about this Brit pop culture reference, we’re not friends) so it’s only right to have an ‘Expat in Germany’ Christmas special. Before I start, there’s something you should understand about me. I’m undisputedly one of the world’s biggest Christmas fans. I’m not religious. I just love tinsel, and Christmas jumpers, and snowman socks. I love that even though it’s cold and dark outside, the streets are brightly lit with garish lights and we’re surrounded by shop displays full of pine cones and baubles. I love that I can read soppy chick lit with titles like Christmas at Tiffany’s and watch trashy made-for-TV movies about princes falling in love with undercover journalists without any guilt. I love wrapping presents whilst listening to Michael Bublé on repeat (sorry, hubby) and seeing them stacked under the twinkly Christmas tree. I love the parties and drinks and ALL the food. I’m totally with Andy Williams: it’s the most wonderful time of the year. And where better to spend it than the land of the humble Christmas market?
Christmas markets are springing up all over Europe these days – even the UK is getting in on the act, with almost every town having a few German-style stalls manned by Poles (the Brits can’t tell the difference between foreigners; they’re suspicious of all of them.) But Germany is synonymous with the Weihnachtsmarkt. Fun fact: Germany boasts over 2,000 Christmas markets, 80 of which are in Berlin alone, and one of those is especially for dogs (oh, those hipsters!). They contribute billions to Germany’s economy and are a major tourist attraction across the country. No wonder that in the month of December, Hamburg seems to double in capacity and becomes a truly international city for a short period. Spaniards jostle to the front of the Bratwurst queue to the chagrin of the patient Brits, Germans sneak out of work during their lunch break for a cheeky Glühwein spiked with rum, while Russian girls in stilettos attempt to stay upright on the cobbles of the town square. Every stall boasts a selection of either something that might make a good present for your nan (because she probably really needs alpaca wool socks), or something you want to eat even though it’s bad for you (crepes with melted Kinder chocolate and Baileys, anyone?) . Hamburg seems to have Christmas markets on every corner, the most famous being the one outside the beautiful Rathaus. This one is extra special: three times a day a sleigh complete with some spectacularly tacky reindeer (minus Rudolph, Prancer and Vixen, which sounds like the word for wank in German) flies over the market and a man dressed as Santa tells a long-winded story about said reindeer whilst everyone records him on their phones. Apparently last week Santa fell out – perhaps three weeks of telling the same story every day has finally driven the poor sod over the edge. Or maybe it was the lack of Vixen.
My favourite Christmas market is Santa Pauli, on the notorious Reeperbahn. For the uninitiated, the Reeperbahn is a cross between Amsterdam’s Red Light District and Magaluf. Think cheap drinks, cheesy clubs, people puking in the gutter, prostitutes behind windows, more strip clubs than you knew could exist in one place, and enough sex shops to make Soho blush. Santa Pauli embraces the spirit of all that makes the Reeperbahn the lovely cultural highlight that it is, and puts a festive spin on it. It’s tagline is ‘Hamburgs geilster Weihnachtsmarkt’, which is a play on words: ‘geil’ means both cool and horny. Hamburg’s horniest Christmas market swaps the traditional tree decoration stalls for opportunities to buy dildos shaped as candy canes. Just don’t buy that for your nana! Instead of Lebkuchen hearts, you can buy edible willies and vaginas with your beloved’s name written on them. Porno karaoke provides fun for the whole family. And the best bit? A strip tent that boats shows for both men and women. Nothing says Merry Christmas more than some plastic boobs swinging around a pole, am I right?
There are a lot of other festive traditions in Germany aside from getting smashed at the Christmas market every other day (or is that just me?) Like other countries, having an advent calendar is popular, although German adults tend to count every Sunday of Advent and light a candle on an Adventskranz (wreath). Not embracing the fact I am supposedly a grown up these days, I went for the chocolate variety. I didn’t know until I came to Germany that everyone here thinks Brits are obsessed with After Eight, thanks to some low budget 90s advertising campaigns. Imagine my excitement when I found a 3D Big Ben After Eight calendar, complete with something British depicted behind every door. I’ve had everything from a black cab to the London Eye to Sherlock Holmes to a cup of tea. It’s a goldmine of stereotypes and has put a smile on my face every morning (the huge minty chocolates aren’t bad either!) Also worthy of an honourable mention is Nikolaustag, which happens on the 6th December. Children have to leave a shoe outside the door the night before and if they’re lucky, St Nick fills it with sweets. If they’re unlucky, I suppose their neighbours will nick their shoe. By the way, do you know where the name ‘Santa Claus’ comes from? Try saying St Nikolaus over and over again, out loud and fairly fast. You’ll sound like a weirdo, but bear with me. Got it? Yep, the Americans warped yet another European tradition!
There is one German Christmas tradition that I do find hard to accept. The 25th, Christmas Day, THE DAY, is just not a thing here. What is that all about? So much build up for a family dinner on Christmas Eve? No turkey. No crackers. No paper hats or badly printed jokes. No speech from the Queen, long-anticipated-but-we-all-knew-it-would-happen death in Eastenders, no food coma, no drinking too much sherry in the afternoon. For all the magical Christmas build up that Germany does – the tasteful lights, the lighting of the Advents candle every Sunday, the Christmas trees everywhere you look – I can’t help missing that little bit of Britmas tradition that I grew up with. So my mission is to bring Christmas Day to Germany!
On that note, I’m signing off for the year to fly back to the country of Christmas Day and sit top to tow in tailbacks for five hours. Rest assured I will be stocked up with mince pies and chocolate yule logs in the car. I wish you a very happy holiday season if Christmas isn’t your thing, and a very Merry Christmas if it is. I look forward to sharing more of my Expat in Hamburg observations with you in 2018!