Düsseldorf Mulled wine, crowds of people and coronavirus? The traditional Christmas market season is just around the corner. In some cities in the region the markets are still being planned, whilst others have already been cancelled.
Stallholders have reacted positively to the announcement by the NRW Minister President Armin Laschet (CDU) that the Christmas markets may be able to be held amidst the corona pandemic. This is what he had said on the fringes of the recent cabinet meeting in Isselburg, near the Dutch border. However, Laschet stated that the markets could only be held under observation of clear rules, such as social distancing and less alcohol.
Frank Hakelberg, General Manager of the German Stallholders’ Association, told our editorial staff that the situation for stallholders is dramatic. “90 per cent of the traders who usually work at fairs in the summer also supply the Christmas markets. What used to be an extra bit of earnings is now extremely important.” Some stallholders have had no income at all since autumn 2019 and have only been able to keep their heads above water with interim aid, so the Christmas markets are extremely important for the industry. “If city centres are open and travel is allowed, then there is no reason why Christmas markets should not be held - under corona guidelines, of course”, said Hakelberg.
The representative for the stallholders rejected however a complete ban on serving alcohol: “Drinking mulled wine is of course a ritual. No one goes to the Christmas market just to buy a woolly hat.” Anyone wanting to drink mulled wine could do so either at the Christmas market in the open air or in cafes and restaurants. "And in the end, it's even safer in the open air."
Hakelberg also indicated that the stallholders were well aware that this year's Christmas markets would be a test for next year's festivities and would be correspondingly restrictive in their approach to the drinks bar. "It is clear to everyone that the authorities for public order will be permanent guests at the Christmas markets and will strictly monitor them.” A survey among the large NRW municipalities revealed that the majority of them are already making preparations for the markets.
According to a city spokeswoman, the Lord Mayor in Essen Thomas Kufen (CDU) has been an advocate of making the Christmas markets possible from an early stage. Essen Marketing GmbH has drawn up a plan for the organisation of the Christmas market and is in talks with the stallholders. "We have some good things so far, such as adapted routing and strictly separated zones for lingering in the market and for walking along the stalls. The areas for lingering can, for example, be separated off from the market as so-called "mulled wine gardens" using fencing. These would then be subject to compulsory masks and registration, so that face coverings could be removed for consumption.
A spokesman for the city of Wuppertal explained that Christmas markets which could be restricted in a similar way to the temporary leisure parks in summer, were possible. But "Christmas stalls in the city centre are unlikely." The city of Mönchengladbach does not organise Christmas markets itself, but according to a spokesperson, it agrees with the Minister President’s assessment. "The public order office is coordinating closely with the organisers of the Christmas markets in Mönchengladbach to support them in planning corona-compliant markets."
Cologne's largest Christmas market at the cathedral, which is usually visited by around five million people a year, was cancelled by the organisers on 26 August due to the corona pandemic. The reason behind the decision: Even with the use of fencing, registration of all visitors and fewer stalls, it would be impossible to implement sufficient protection measures. The decision was made with a heavy heart, explained organiser Monika Flocke, but she did not wish to be held responsible if someone at the market becomes infected or even if a superspreader event occurs. Two days later, the operators of the Christmas markets at the Alter Markt and Heumarkt also cancelled. The ‘Markt der Engel’ (Market of Angels) at Neumarkt followed on 23 September. It is still undecided whether there will be a Christmas market at Rudolfplatz. The harbour Christmas market at the Rheinauhafen is to be held on a smaller scale, and stalls are also planned at Chlodwigplatz in the Südstadt.
Upon request, the city of Bonn stated that on the initiative of the Lord Mayor, a meeting will be held with the market operators at the beginning of October to sound out whether and, if so, under what conditions, the Bonn Christmas markets might be possible. The city would find it useful for the state to lay down guidelines. Siegburg has not yet decided whether the medieval market, which is interregional, can take place before Christmas. The city administration and the organisers are currently developing appropriate hygiene precautions. A final decision is expected at the end of October. If the event takes place, it will certainly be different from previous years, according to the city hall. They say that they have taken inspiration from other markets that were held in the area in late summer.
"The new quick tests could help us to make so many more things possible than at present. Of course, this also applies to Christmas markets," said NRW opposition leader Thomas Kutschaty (SPD). "In combination with the distancing, hand washing and face covering rules and corresponding hygiene precautions, a lot could be done".
(Original text: Maximilian Plück, Translation: Caroline Kusch)