Christmas Market, Vienna
This was put up as a post in 2010, rather than a page. Recently people have been finding it, so I decided to update it and make it a “page” under the Rants section.
Christmas street markets were a feature of the German and Austrian Christmas. At some point, British tour companies started advertising short breaks (and “visit the Christmas market”) as we did in Vienna ten years ago. You could buy elaborate sweets and pastries, candles and beeswax products, fruit, Christmas tree decorations, and twenty-five kinds of honey, and even more kinds of flavoured schnapps. Mulled wine was served in the streets. Add the brisk cold air of December, beautiful buildings, lights everywhere. Vienna was perfect … enough snow to dress the buildings, but not enough to make walking difficult. The pavements were clear.
Tree decorations, Christmas Market, Vienna
Then the idea that these were a tourist attraction caught on in Britain. Bournemouth was an early adopter of the heavily advertised “German Christmas Market” with a distinctly Germanic sausage and sauerkraut slant to the food stalls, gothic lettering everywhere and people passing out at mulled wine stalls.
A few years later, and every major town in Britain has one. And I loath them. First, there’s very little that’s either German or Christmasy left. There’s an acrid reek of burnt pork as cheap spicy sausages are frying and a sickly wafting of mulled wine, but many stalls are selling pashmirs (scarves) or magnetic arthritis bracelets or even double-glazing. For some reason huge barrels of olives permanently exposed to the smoky air from the barbecued sausages are supposed to be appealing. They’re appalling. Bournemouth’s got one. Not quite the same as Vienna?
Just 30 miles away: Southampton’s got one too
So has Salisbury, 30 miles away
So has Winchester, 40 miles away
So has Bath, 65 miles away
I was in a shop right by the market in Bournemouth. As the owner said, she paid rates (local taxes) all year round. She employs three people, so pays staff, and light and heat. She expects to generate around 35% of her annual turnover in the six weeks before Christmas, a common percentage in the retail trade. She is very careful about where she sources her scarves and belts, avoiding countries of manufacture which use child labour. Then just as the busiest retail season starts, four weeks before Christmas, wooden sheds are erected in the street right outside her shop. They can sell scarves (of dubious origin) much cheaper than her because they don’t pay overheads for a year. The restaurants which run all year, subject to stringent public health regulations, find foul-smelling sausages and burgers on sale right by their shops. It’s madness. It shows no respect or concern for the local traders in these towns who have to keep open the other eleven months of the year. No wonder our town centres are dying, and genuine, interesting shops replaced by estate agents, building societies and charity shops.
When Christmas markets were few and far between, they brought people into town and the shops benefitted. Now every town has one, so they merely leach their trade off the locals.
Anyone for some traditional German Curry wurst?
Outside the Tate Modern, Southbank, London 2014 (above), 2015 (below)