St. Ann’s Square is heaving, the cold air bites fingertips and it seems the majority of Manchester’s shoppers are finding glühwein to be the tonic.
Stood proudly on the edge of the street, the stall run by Anja Mamke of Bremen, near Hamburg, Germany, is a wonderland of food and drink.
Anja has been trading at Manchester’s Christmas markets every year since they started in 1998 and has grown fond of Manchester in that time.
“We really like all the people around here,” Anja said as shoppers carefully squeezed past each other, steaming cups in hand.
“It’s our second home, everyone is very friendly and the people really appreciate what we are doing so it makes a difference.”
The depth of the Glühwein Store’s operation, also selling German Beer, Glulanveia sausages and grilled ham amongst other delights is impressive and it keeps growing.
Anja explained: “We have been the first traders to come so this is our fourteenth year. We used to drive our van but now we have a warehouse in Manchester so it’s only a two-hour flight.”
The success of the Christmas Markets have meant their old method of driving a van across the continent wouldn’t be viable.
“We are building a whole market so to keep driving would be very expensive with the fuel and diesel prices,” Anja said. “This is why we are renting the warehouse.”
The Glühwein Store also prides itself on selling authentic produce, from the glühwein itself right down to the treats such as roasted almonds.
“We sell typical German things – German beers which are not sold here and wines which are typical for the Frankfurt region,” Anja said.
“It is original and it’s the same thing with the sausages. You can get some people offering us German sausages made in England but I think the people like the difference – it’s really important.
“More or less it’s always the same people coming over so we have known each other for so many years. It is like a community. Everyone comes over for seven weeks for Christmas season so we go together quite well.”
The Manchester Christmas Markets now boasts over 200 stalls, though they started life as a 17-stall German Market hosted by Frankfurt Council.
Anja explained how the Manchester Markets came to be and recalled the early days: “It started with the Christmas market in the city of Frankfurt, it used to be a twin city with Birmingham.
“We did a Christmas market in Birmingham and somebody from Manchester saw it and there were no more people from Frankfurt who wanted to come over. People like us from Bremen were asked and this is why we are in Manchester.”
The Christmas Markets are open from 10am to 8pm, with bars, such as The Glühwein Stall being open until 9pm.
With an hour to set-up each morning, a 12-hour day means workers get little free time to see Manchester.
However, after 14 years, even with such a demanding schedule, Anja and her colleagues have made enough friends in Manchester to enjoy their precious spare time.
“We don’t have so much time but we do have a regular customer who takes us to football games sometimes,” she said.
On December 23, the Markets will pack up and the traders will return home to a swathe of European towns and cities in time for Christmas.
Reflecting on what her Christmas will be like, a smiling Anja said:“We are going home for Christmas because we have all our family at home. My daughter is 15 in March but she is used to being alone at the Christmas season for all these years so I want to party with the family at home.”
As for many families in Britain, family will play a central role in her Christmas at home in Germany, and she described a familiar scene:
“My parents in-law are building up the Christmas tree and preparing the food for everyone coming home and falling asleep under the tree.”