Germans fight for their Christmas markets

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Germans fight for their Christmas markets

Germans gave up Oktoberfest to help stop Covid. They've obediently lined up for throat swabs in airports, canceled weddings and rebooked Mediterranean getaways to the chilly Baltic Sea. But this week they showed there's one thing that's still sacred: Christmas markets.

You can't walk through a German city in December without tripping over a market, or several, with clusters of prefab wooden huts selling candied almonds, hot spiced wine — with a shot of rum, why not? — and bratwurst alongside everything from beeswax candles to hand-cut wooden ornaments and alpaca wool scarves. The markets draw some 160 million visitors each year and generate more than $3.5 billion in revenue, according to trade association DSB.

When German Chancellor Angela Merkel gathered state leaders to discuss anti-virus measures in Berlin on Thursday, she wanted to cancel big events through the end of the year. State leaders demanded a loophole for the holiday markets, insisting that it's possible to come up with a way to make the markets safe. "They will be different markets from the ones we've known so far," Oliver Schenk, chief of the Saxony minister-president's office, told regional radio station MDR Sachsen.

Berlin's Christmas market

Photographer: Jasper Juinen/Bloomberg

Not everybody agrees. Organizers have already canceled the country's biggest Christmas market, which packs some 4 million visitors a year into a square next to the cathedral in Cologne. "We don't want for people to get sick and say the Cologne Christmas market was the hot spot," market director Monika Flocke told news agency DPA.

But the impulse is understandable. Germany's response to the virus has been, by most accounts, exemplary so far. After squashing an initial surge in April, the country managed to keep infections at a low plateau for most of the summer. As clandestine partying and vacation travel fed an increase in cases, particularly in young adults, authorities stepped up health surveillance, conducting almost a million virus tests last week — with a positive rate of less than 1%.

As cooler weather sweeps in, the summer social life of parks, beer gardens and cafe terraces will come to an end. Gatherings indoors will be more problematic, and probably limited. If anybody can manage to be social yet distant while drinking hot toddies in the cold, perhaps it's the Germans.—Naomi Kresge and Arne Delfs

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