Weihnachtsmarkt (Christmas Markets) is a distinct part of the celebrations in Germany and their conspicuous absence leaves a big void in the festive season
The area around the Hamburger Rathaus (Hamburg City Hall) wears a deserted look. Usually, at this time of the year, the area is at its vibrant best. Forget the weekends, even week days witnesses a huge crowd.
This year it is different. The historic Weihnachtsmarkt (Christmas Market) at the Rathaus has been cancelled. In fact most Christmas markets in the city, as also a bulk in the whole of Germany, have been cancelled. Christmas markets are a distinct part of Christmas celebrations in Germany and their absence leaves a big void in the festive season.
Though there was no official confirmation as regards the cancellation it became obvious as the year progressed that it was practically impossible to go ahead with the numerous events scheduled. Traditional events like the Oktoberfest and the Hamburg Cathedral [DOM] - considered the largest folk festival in Northern Germany, had already been cancelled. As things stand the Christmas markets in most parts are conspicuous by their absence this year.
The coronavirus pandemic has written its own script and ensured 2020 is remembered as annus horribilis, if remembered at al, that is. There was no way it could have allowed for a happy ending.
The increase in the number of cases across Germany has forced Angela Merkel’s government to order a second lockdown, or Lockdown Light. For a country that had done incredibly well when the COVID-19 pandemic was first confirmed in March, the second wave has caught the country a bit off guard, partly owing to the desperation of the hoi polloi to get going with their normal lives.
Germany has become the 12th country with more than a million cases and the death toll, while much less in comparison to the other affected countries, has more than doubled when compared to the first wave.
The authorities aimed to break the exponential growth in new infections and as such made it clear that there will be strengere regeln bis weihnachten (stricter rules until Christmas). While the government intends at relaxation during the Christmas period — from December 23 to January 1, to let families and friends celebrate together, the restrictions will be back in place after New Year and will be in place for the entire winter.
While hustle and bustle of the Christmas markets are not to be seen there are a few stalls that have been permitted. So across the city there are standalone stores selling the famous Glühwein (spiced wine), mandeln (almonds), pommes frites (French fries), Hamburger Speck (candy) and other popular food and drink items.
What is also impressive is the decorations around the city. As per reports an amount of 300 million euros has been spent on lighting around the city center. The decorations and festive lights in and around Rathaus, Jungfernstieg and Mönckebergstraße, as also suburb areas like Eppendorfer Baum and Klostertern are as grand and beautiful as is the case each year. With comparatively less people than usual it makes for a perfect photo option.
Then there are smart alternatives that have been made possible despite of the restrictions. These drive-in Christmas markets — which can be approached, but by car, and the visitors should not leave their vehicles at any given point of time — have the typical food and beverage that is common during this festive occasion. One can pick up a glass of Glühwein or a little gift for family/friends on the go. They are open from December 4th up to December 20th, when lockdown light is still in force across the country.
Chancellor Angela Merkel has announced that the restrictions will be extended at least until January 10 — barring the mini-amnesty period during Christmas, while also clearly stating that Germany needs to needs to “get through a tough winter.” A more pragmatic member of her cabinet has made it clear that the situation won’t improve before spring in the least. Even if the vaccinations start on schedule, it will still take time to attain the desired levels considering the massive scale.
It is a shame that a virus, rather human error (and subsequent cover up) not only endangered the world at large but also affected the usual upbeat mood around the Christmas and the New Year. What should have been a period of celebrations and festivities instead wears a desolate and lonely look. However, the positivity remains unshaken. Hopefully, the new year will bring in better news.