The other side of Manchester’s Christmas Markets

By Henry Hill

Manchester’s annual German Christmas market is justly renowned.

The square in front of the Town Hall is annually transformed into a mock alpine village crammed with beer halls and many, many purveyors of Germany’s oft-neglected national cuisine.

If you’re craving something slightly less Teutonic, there are also French shops trading in cheeses and the odd olive-selling Italian. If you’re indecisive, the village entrance hosts an alcoholic coffee house run by that charming blend of all three, the Swiss.
With the massed charms of mitteleuropa abundantly on display, there seems to be little to tempt the contented shopper away from the main square. Yet sad journalistic duty compelled me to leave the merrily overpriced drinking den my teammates had found and take my chances with the ambitiously named ‘World Christmas Market’.
A market based on the world couldn’t be all that bad though, surely? As Manchester Council’s gaudily lit and festively fascistic Santa Claus Arch reminded me, the Germans themselves have made the odd bid for the globe. If such esteemed market-holders thought there was something there worth having, surely I would too.
This timely recollection of German expansionism was my slim comfort on the thirty-second walk to the top of Brazennose Street.

Once there however, I was left with a niggling feeling that either Germany must have seen something in the world I couldn’t.
To dispel a couple of assumptions is to explain my disappointment. Of the three word name ‘World Christmas Market’, only the latter turned out to be entirely honest.
First, of all the stalls on the ‘world’ market, fully two third were simply common British market stalls selling common or garden tat. This isn’t just wild exaggeration – I walked up and down the tragic length of Brazennose Street twice, counting each way. Stalls that could be generously described as having an international flavour were outnumbered two to one.
Of these, nearly all the authentic ones were European. A Dutch cake stall with free samples proved most popular, while a near-empty Austrian ‘beer-hall’ was doing a heroic job of being a big Germany in a small pond. A trio of food shops sold French, Italian and Turkish cuisine.
The rest really stumbled at the second word, ‘Christmas’. Great as the spirit of inclusivity on display surely was, one would expect even an international Christmas market to focus on countries where Christianity is prominent. Or, indeed, civilisations that still exist .
But this market was determined to defy such narrow assumptions. Thus we had the Indian-themed ‘Stall of Wonders’, and the delegation of knickknack traders all the way from ancient Egypt.
The punch line, however, was right at the beginning. The very first stall an unwary shopper claps eyes on when they turn into the World Christmas Market is the stall from the Aztecs, a civilisation whose only experience of Christians was being wiped out by them.
Closer inspection revealed that ‘Aztec’ cultural artefacts are remarkably similar to the sort of New Age bead-drenched nonsense my team and I had naïvely assumed we’d ducked by avoiding the Arts & Crafts Market. This rather set the tone for the whole depressing sojourn.
The World Christmas Market is let down by its total lack of a point, its meager charms amounting to oddly decorated mirrors, small statues, patently ridiculous coats of arms and a flock of wooden ducks.
So let this article end with words no traveler has spoken before: I have seen the world – take me back to Germany.

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