German Christmas markets experience another year of uncertainty and closures

People, many wearing face masks, walk past Christmas market stalls near Cologne Cathedral (Kölner Dom) during the fourth wave of the coronavirus pandemic on November 30, 2021 in Cologne, Germany.

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German Christmas markets are a huge draw for international tourists, with the country’s major cities home to a form of “Christkindlmarkt” – a festive market selling Christmas presents as well as food and drink – from late November through early January.

For the second year in a row, however, the Covid-19 pandemic has posed a challenge for municipal authorities in Germany. Several states have again canceled their major Christmas markets amid an upsurge in Covid cases across the country.

Those who have decided to stay open are operating under more restrictions and have strict entry rules in place for visitors, who must show their vaccination status or have recently recovered from Covid-19. These restrictions are known as the “2G rules” because they refer to people vaccinated – “geimpft” in German – or recovered, “genesen”.

The 2G sign is seen during the opening of the Christmas market in Cologne, Germany on November 22, 2021, as coronavirus cases are at a high level in Germany.

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While Christmas markets have opened in North Rhine-Westphalia, several German states with particularly high infection rates, such as Bavaria and Saxony, have banned their Christmas markets altogether this year.

This is the case in Munich, the capital of Bavaria, which hosts one of Germany’s most famous Christmas markets in its main square, Marienplatz. On November 16, Munich Mayor Dieter Reiter announced that the Munich Christkindlmarkt – which would have taken place from November 22 to December 24 – had been canceled due to “the tense coronavirus situation”.

Reiter said the cancellation would be “bitter news” for Munich residents and booth owners, but “the dire situation in our hospitals and exponentially increasing infection rates leave me with no other choice. “.

Workers dismantle a Christmas market stall on Marienplatz in central Munich, southern Germany, November 22, 2021.

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Explaining the reason for the cancellation, he said that “anything else would lead to an unjustifiable increase in the risk of infection and send the wrong signal – especially to all of our hospital workers, who are working to their limits. now it is a matter of avoiding large gatherings of people as much as possible. “

Some critics of the shutdown had argued that since the market takes place outdoors, the risk of infection for visitors and shoppers there would be lower than in indoor stores. Reiter responded to the reviews, noting: “As some might point out, that the Christkindlmarkt is in the fresh air. However, the Munich Christkindlmarkt on Marienplatz and the surrounding squares in particular cannot be fenced, which means the number guests and compliance with the 2G rule would be impossible to control. And this in the pedestrian zone, which is already very busy before Christmas. The same goes for Winterzauber at the Viktualienmarkt. The Viktualienmarkt is an open-air food market which becomes a Christmas market at this time of year.

A sign indicating the obligation to wear face masks can be seen at the Christmas market in the city of Duisburg, western Germany, on November 29, 2021.

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The closure of the Christmas market is a blow to traders, but officials are caught between a rock and a hard place. Bavaria is a Covid hotspot in Germany and has recorded the second highest number of Covid cases (after the more populous North Rhine-Westphalia) since the start of the pandemic, with around 1.25 million infections reported .

Lucrative markets

Closing the Christmas markets was not a decision taken lightly, given how lucrative they are for small businesses and the states in which they are held.

Munich’s Ministry of Labor and Economic Development, which hosts the city’s main Christkindlmarkt at Marienplatz, told CNBC that according to 2015 calculations and a survey of 1,000 visitors, the market is worth around 286 million dollars. euros ($ 323.4 million) each year for the city. .

People walk among closed stalls that would normally sell gluehwein, stolen bread, Christmas tree decorations and other Christmas delicacies at the closed Christmas market in Striezelmarkt during the fourth wave of the coronavirus pandemic on November 23 2021 in Dresden, Germany.

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This calculation is based on the number of visitors each year – the state says 3.3 million people visit the market each year. And around € 61 million is spent – on food and drink, among other things – every year. Visitors spend around 88 million euros each year on taxis and public transport in the city, while overnight visitors at the market spend 137 million euros on accommodation.

Munich’s labor department said the figures only relate to the official Christmas market and not the city’s private markets, which number more than 30. All of Bavaria’s Christmas markets have been canceled this year, including private markets.

The department added that the state does not directly profit from the Christmas markets. On the contrary, it realizes profits or losses indirectly, for example from the municipal share of the sales tax. Therefore, any drop in tourism, and the money visitors spend in hotels, restaurants, retailers and tours, hits the city coffers.

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