Having lived in Germany for a number of years I have a great fondness for Christmas markets. I especially enjoy markets in the smaller towns as they have a more intimate feel about them. People seem to know each other better and arrange to meet up for a few laughs and drinks.
“bratwursts, grillflamme and glühwein of the European stalls was my refreshments of choice”
Manchester has its own market and for the last few years I have made a point of visiting. This year seemed especially inviting as apart from the main market in Albert Square there were several others spread around the city.
Arriving on a slightly wet evening at the Wheel of Manchester in Exchange Square it was a little disappointing to only find one food and beverage stall. This one was selling hog roast sandwiches, which were probably really good but it was bratwursts, grillflamme and glühwein of the European stalls I craved.
There were plenty of small stalls selling handmade gifts and various other items which had numerous people browsing. There were also some performing artists playing some lively music and it was enjoyable to stand and appreciate their efforts on a chilly, wet evening.
It was also great to see the infographic that had been produced resembling a wall map showing where all the separate markets could be found. The ‘footprints in the snow’ between individual sites were particularly cool.
However as there were not any ‘bratties’ on offer it was time to head to the main square. It was still early when I arrived just after 6pm, but it was already extremely busy, probably people just leaving work having a few drinks before heading home.
Struggling through the aisles and throng of people to find a suitable place to enjoy the objects of my desire took a little longer than anticipated. The sheer mass of people shifting in one direction then the other seemed to make it feel as though I was swimming against a strong ‘riptide’. There were also stationary groups which needed to be negotiated, standing drinking beer and glühwein or eating a snack. These snacks are more expensive than any German market and there do not seem to be many stallholders from Germany.
s”reminded me why I no longer enjoy night clubs”
Eventually finding a bratwurst stall which also sold that special heated German spiced wine I struggled to find a spot to order and then savour my refreshments. It was necessary to continually move however to allow somebody to get served or to get past and it reminded me why I no longer enjoy night clubs!
The square is not especially large but taking a walk around the stalls took quite some time as often just moving a few feet required the skills of a skilled rugby winger.
I made several more stops trying the feuerzangenbowle (glühwein with rum and sugar) and some cherry strudel with vanilla sauce. There were plenty of options for food from all around Europe, and it was pleasure to see the English food stalls interspered between the others. Cheeses, macaroons, Belgium waffles, chocolate coated fruit, a wide variety of sweets and of course all manner of beer are available.
However the constant ‘buffeting’ from the ever shifting crowd became a little wearisome after awhile and it felt like time to find some space.
Wandering down a side street there was at last some relief from the almost claustrophobic main square but the stall options were a bit limited. Still it provided a chance to get a few more images and catch my breath.
It seems that they have missed a trick here; most stalls are crammed into the main square, meaning everybody descends on this making the experience less pleasant than it could be. It was pointed out to me that it is quieter during the day and there is plenty of room then, but obviously most want to attend in the evening.
“I never remember feeling in a rush to leave”
It did not really remind me of the German Christmas markets which were familiar to me, they are much more relaxed. It is possible to sit with a group of friends for several hours without the need to move even once. There always seemed to be plenty of space and I never remember feeling in a rush to leave.
Manchester has plenty of open squares and a few of them had been used to place smaller ‘markets’. However just distributing the food and drink stalls a little more sensibly it is probable most overcrowding could be avoided. A better mix of refreshment and craft stalls and there would not have been a need for everybody to congregate at the one main square. It could have been so much more ‘user friendly’.
It may intentional to have an ‘European’ style market, but bringing in genuine German stalls and reducing the costs would probably attract yet more visitors. Not so good for me perhaps but beneficial to the organisers.
Now that I have finished my résumé for organising next year’s market it is worth noting that there is plenty to keep all but the most miserly ‘Scrooge’ happy. Families and groups of adults will enjoy strolling through some of the quieter, more spacious markets, then popping over to the busy square for a bit of refreshment when required.
There was even a small funfair and live music stage located in Piccadilly Gardens, it did not really appeal to me as in some things traditional is the way forward. There is plenty of space here for an exta bratwurst or beer stall!
It is advisable to get there early if possible, especially if taking young children. The markets however are far more preferable for enjoying a few drinks with friends than a stuffy old bar at anytime.
If living near Manchester or have a Christmas market located near your home, take heed of some advice. Do not be put off, make an effort, arrange to meet a few friends and feast on bratwurst and glühwein, laughs are almost guaranteed. The festive season is over all too quickly, there is not a lot of time to eat, drink and be merry!