Having lived in the city centre for the past few years, I know it’s time to feel festive when I start to see wooden cabins, flat packed, being driven around the city. Over the course of a few days in mid-November the Frankfurt Weihnachtsmarkt, or Christmas Market, is constructed along a mile or so from the ICC on Centenary Square, all the way through Chamberlain square, Victoria square, and New Street, with stalls now stretching almost as far as High Street. Here’s a quick guide about where I think it best to get what, and how to avoid being crushed in the crowds, although arguably that’s half the fun.
Let’s start with Centenary Square, which is on Broad Street by the ICC. Here you’ll find a fairground, which I think is pretty generic, other than the Kettenkarussel (I think we call them a chair-o-plane – metal chairs connected by chains to the central tower which lifts you up and spins you out and around) which feels appropriate to the market. You can also try your luck on some fairground stalls to win an 7ft banana (why?!). Walking towards Paradise forum from here you’ll head through the non-German craft stalls. Some of it is worth a look, but I think there’s some tat there this year to make up the numbers. I like the hat stalls particularly, and the zip-bag stall – who wouldn’t like a bag made out of a length of zip for Christmas? If you’re in this part of town in the week and on some weekends then you should take a moment to nip in to the Hall of Memory which contains books with the names of those from the Birmingham area who died in the Great War and the Second World War – it’s appropriately sombre and moving, and is a lovely bit of architecture to boot. Just before that is a chance to get Bailey’s laced Hot Chocolate, or a Hogan’s cider, or Christmas dinner in a Yorkshire pudding. Further up past the Hall of Memory you can pick up more craft items, or an ostrich / reindeer / bison burger, or a turkey / pork / beef filled bun. Lots of foodie opportunities. You’ll then get to Paradise Forum, which you should proceed straight through as it’s quite horrible.
Out the other side, you’ll arrive in to Chamberlain Square. Here you’ll find further craft stalls, and you’ll also be able to get a hot Winter Pimm’s (which is served with hot apple juice – yummy), some spicy Indian wraps, noodles, pashmenas (that’s not food, you understand), more hats (I do love a hat), 3D wooden things like lamps and fruit bowls that fold down flat, and lots of other random stuff.
It’s just past here, as you enter Victoria Square that you’ll start to see the German stalls. My advice is you should stop immediately at the large bar at the right hand side and buy a comedy large 2 pint beer, or a Gluhwein (potent German mulled wine, which I’m assured back in Germany only the winos drinks). When you buy a drink here you’ll also have to pay a deposit – which is £5 on the 2 pint glasses – and you’ll get a token. You must return your token and your glass to any of the German stalls selling Gluhwein / Beer so that you can get your deposit back. The booze is fairly pricey.
In this square you can get frankfurters (yuck), garlic breads which will make you honk for days, a roasted ham roll, coffee beans, traditional German crafts, and other stocking fillers. Most importantly though, by the entrance to the Town Hall, is Chris Moose – a stuffed and mounted Moose’s head on one of the bars which sings Christmas tunes (and if you’re there at the right time you might be able to join in with the tipsy crowd). Head round the corner from here and you can get a pork burger with mushrooms and garlic sauce (yummy), or a red or white grilled sausage. This brätwursts are cooked on coals in front of you. You pay your money, you get a token in return (which will stay on the bar), and this is then exchanged for a sausage. You can then milk a condiment udder (you’ll have to go and see to explain that one) of mustard or ketchup.
The market then proceeds down New Street with a fairly repetitive array of stalls: pretzels, wooden carved things including toys, doughnuts, marshmallows, candid nuts, candles, Christmas decorations, frankfurters, pretzels, wooden carved things, doughnuts, marshmallows, candid nuts….. etc. Half way down New Street, just by Bennetts Hill, is a helicopter topped bar which is the last place you can get your mugs returned for their deposits, if you can squeeze in here you’ll be able to warm up because it’s toasty inside. Then carry on going and eventually you get to a stall selling Honigwein (hot sweet wine with a honey flavour).
In 2012 the market runs from 15th November to 22nd December, 10am until 9pm. It’s busiest times are Thursday after work, Friday after work, Saturdays after 2pm, and Sundays until about 4pm when it begins to thin out. I cannot describe how busy it gets! Particularly the area around Victoria square gets completely and utterly crushed, you can barely move. Don’t say I didn’t warn you. Coming in on the weekend? Don’t even think about driving in, get the train, or the bus, or the tram. Parking is a nightmare at the moment as we’re a couple of car parks down due to refurbishments. However if you HAVE to drive then I suggest these (in this order of preference):
- Brindley Place Car Park B1 2JF
- Paradise Circus Multistorey B1 2NB
- Arena Car Park (under Crown Plaza) B1 1TQ
- Town Hall Multistorey (previously Brunel St Car Park) B1 1TA
- The Mailbox Car Park B1 1XL
- Birmingham Albany Multistorey (I think it has a new name, it’s on St. Judes Passage) B5 4AN
Charges for these car parks can be found on Parkopedia, and they’re all within a 5 or 10 minute walk of the market.
Although I bitterly complain about how busy it makes town during December, Christmas isn’t Christmas for me unless I’ve milked a condiment udder on to a foot long sausage. It’s a must do!
Have a wonderful Christmas everyone, or as they say in Germany, Froehliche Weinachten!