Cultural differences How an American sees the Bonn Christmas Market

BONN · Student José Bogran from Texas discovers German traditions in Bonn. He is surprised that nearly every German town has its own Christmas market.

“My mother would have a heart attack. She loves this sort of thing,” says José Bogran. He is standing in the Käthe Wohlfahrt chalet at the Bonn Christmas Market alongside the colourful Nutcrackers, fragile Christmas baubles and red-cheeked angels crowded onto the shelves. The scent of fresh wood is in the air and an unending stream of people winds through the narrow chalet. José shakes a snow globe and looks at the swirling artificial flakes. “I think I’ll take this for my ma.”

It is not immediately clear to the American how the Christmas pyramids work. “You put candles under them and heat makes the sails spin,” someone explains to him. “Ah,” he grins, “German engineering.” José Bogran comes from College Station, a city with around 100,000 residents. He has been studying urban planning there for three years at the Texas A&M University. He has been spending a semester abroad at the Academy for International Education in Bonn since August – and exploring the Christmas market.

José Bogran says he is surprised that nearly every German town has its own Christmas market. There is hardly anything comparable in the US. “In College Station, the city centre is decorated with lots of fairy lights. But they’ve been the same for 20 years. They look pretty old now.” Outside the city there is “Santa’s Wonderland” with its light displays, which opened as a drive-in attraction more than 20 years ago. “You didn’t even have to get out of the car.”

On the hunt for the best mulled wine

As is well known, everything is bigger in the US. But in terms of size, the Bonn Christmas Market also has something to offer this year: the City Skyliner. More than 70 metres up at the top of the tower, a cabin rotates through 360 degrees affording a night-time view of Bonn. In the distance, the yellow and blue lights of the Post Tower form a Christmas tree shortly before 8pm. José is enchanted by the sea of lights.

The American native with Honduran roots is certainly not the only foreign visitor this evening. The city does not count how many there are. “However, as organiser, the markets service centre is increasingly receiving queries from people in Belgium, France, the Netherlands and Great Britain who would like to visit the Christmas market,” says Markus Schmitz from the city press office. Employees of Bonn Information are on hand to answer visitors’ questions about the Christmas market. There are many enquiries about handicraft stands because of their customisable gifts – and of course recommendations for the best mulled wine stand.

Overnight guests from abroad stay for 2.1 nights on average says Sissel Theuerjahr from the Tourismus & Congress GmbH. Schnitz says the T&C and the Historic Highlights of Germany Association (HHoG) provided information about the Bonn Christmas Market nationally and outside Germany. “Press trips from the US were also organised through the HHoG.”

According to Bonn Information, foreign visitors to the Bonn Christmas Market especially like the Christmassy atmosphere and the cozy togetherness. José Bogran agrees. “The Christmas market has a very communal feel. Everyone in Bonn seems to come here and have fun – but perhaps that’s to do with the mulled wine?” he asks laughing. However, he does not like this of all things. “I’m just not a wine guy.” He will probably never understand the Germans’ love for the sticky hot drink. Or their enthusiasm for sparking water. But that is another story.

(Original text: Katharina Weber. Translation: kc)

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