By Rick Redman
The international Christmas Markets have become iconic of our city’s festive season.
Running from 18th November to 21st December, the annual influx of bars, shops and stalls is an essential fixture of Christmas culture.
And though Holland, Hungary, Spain and France are all proudly represented in Manchester at the moment, it is the warming aroma of German food and drink that dominates the icy air.
Germanic influence has well-and-truly been embraced: bratwurst and gluhwein are now as much a part of Christmas in Manchester as mistletoe and roasted chestnuts.
It’s no surprise that a city as culturally diverse as Manchester welcomes an array of European cultures with open arms every year.
As familiar as the markets have become, it is no less exciting to traverse the transformed streets and squares of the city.
The Manchester Markets website says the city was first granted a license to hold markets by William the Conqueror in 1066.
The international markets are a more modern addition to the festive landscape, however – they began in 1999 with the German Christmas Market from Frankfurt in St Ann’s Square.
By 2009, Manchester’s Christmas Markets consisted of around 200 stalls and attracted nearly 1.3million visitors – the most successful Markets to date.
Many temporary jobs were created, with Christmas Market traders employing 1,246 people over the trading period.
Information obtained by a survey commissioned from DTZ by Manchester Markets shows that the actual economic impact on the city was a staggering £49.9 million last year.
Manchester Council says that one in five people that visited Manchester city centre during the Christmas period visited the Christmas Markets.
City centre spokesperson, Councillor Pat Karney said: “This report confirms our position as number one for Christmas.
“People come from far and wide to visit our Christmas markets and the figures speak for themselves.”
The markets attract visitors from throughout the country, as they provide an alternative atmosphere for Christmas shopping.
Wendy Murphy and her family have travelled to the markets from Sleaford, Lincolnshire every year for the last four years.
“We love the Christmas Markets here. I always buy a lot of handmade jewellery as gifts.
“Having said that, I always seem to end up buying a fair few things for myself too!”
As with the UK’s largest Christmas ‘Frankfurt’ Markets in Birmingham and Leeds, traders come from Frankfurt to be a part of the Manchester festivities.
Traders from Frankfurt season our city with the authenticity of the Christmas Markets held in their own city: one of Europe’s largest and oldest Christmas festivals.
As the colossal Zippy-from-Rainbow-inspired Father Christmas (it’s uncanny) looks over the stalls of Albert Square, what parallels does he see with the authentic markets in Frankfurt?
The south-west German city’s wonderful gothic architecture is exemplified by the magnificent Saint Bartholomeu’s Cathedral.
The 14th Century structural behemoth stands high above the city, overlooking the heart of the market festival in Römerberg square.
The cathedral is central to Frankfurt’s seasonal merrymaking, much like the Town Hall is to Manchester’s.
With a hot mug of gluhwein gripped between woollen gloves, I amble through the medieval avenues of market stalls and merry-go-rounds in the square, where it’s easy to see what inspired Manchester’s German Markets.
For all the charm of the Manchester Markets, it’s difficult not to fall in love with the wintry rapture of those in Frankfurt.
Wiry trees stretch upwards towards the cloudy sky, illuminated by the breakthrough rays of a low-lying sun.
Perfectly maintained ancient architecture bookends the vast array of craft stalls, bars and Christmas attractions on all sides, their rooftops punctuated by dripping snow.
It is the stuff Christmas cards are made of.
Dietmar Knude is the proprietor of Heiβe-Getränke, a gluhwein and apfelwein stall in Römerberg square.
Herr Knude, of Bornheim, Frankfurt, opened the stall with his wife, Ilse, 12 years ago.
“Christmas is a wonderful time in Frankfurt,” he says warmly, in perfect English.
“The markets are very popular and everyone has a good time. The whole area transforms and it looks spectacular.”
Frankfurt Market’s website claims that the history of the markets can be traced back to 1393.
The original medieval market was traditionally accompanied by the performance of ecclesiastical mystery plays, which were also held in Römerberg square.
The original mystery play was, it is presumed, based on a historical encounter that occurred in 941AD, when King Otto the Great and his brother Heinrich reconciled after a long period of estrangement.
These days the Frankfurt markets attract tourism from across the continent and even from as far afield as the United States and Canada.
Frankfurt is a city not unlike our own in terms of layout. Off the main shopping street are squares peppered with eateries and pubs, and this December they are decorated with bright lights that illuminate the crisped snowfall.
The original markets in Frankfurt may be bigger, but Manchester’s yearly vibrant cultural celebration impressively depicts a taste of traditional Germany as well other European countries.