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Ron Bendell: We're being invaded – by German Christmas markets

By Western Morning News  |  Posted: December 11, 2013

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There are times when it is perfectly acceptable to be a touch racist. Humorist and former editor of Punch Alan Coren, for example, always justified his tirades against the Germans by pointing out that during five years of his childhood in London they had been going all out trying to kill him.

These views were often echoed by my own father who was born a couple of years before the First World War. Happily, rural seclusion meant he was never bombed but was always keen to tell anyone who would listen: "I was 13 before I saw a banana thanks to those b*****s. Then, when I had my first boy they came along again and he was 13 too. Tried to eat the thing with the skin on."

There was a delicious irony years later, by the way, when Dad's best friend just happened to be Italian, another brother had married a Japanese girl and I was going out with a young lady from Berlin. "There you are" I told him. "We've got the complete Axis Powers." I shall not record his reply here.

Despite all that we were all brought up to be fond of things Teutonic. Germany has become a favourite and visits for work, tourism and romance have left me at times positively reeking of sauerkraut.

It is with great pleasure, therefore, that I greet a growing trend at this festive time for town squares across Britain to host German Christmas markets.

Just how genuine they are it's hard to say but they look the real thing with their rows of brightly lit stalls packed with gingerbread and hand painted wooden tree decorations and folk gathered around great vats of bubbling spiced wine stuffing down the bratwurst like there's no tomorrow.

OK, there may be a lack of snow, the customers may look and sound far too English and it's all far too ersatz for experts in these things but the overall impression is jolly pleasing. They're certainly more fun than traipsing round a shopping mall.

The locations may seem a little incongruous but remember that Christmas as we know it was invented – along with Scotland – by Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg and Gotha. There's a clue in the name.

There is a growing German influence in more conventional retail outlets too. Apparently, as sales of conventional mince pies take a tumble there has been an increase in demand for the fruit bread known as stollen, something I can recommend.

It comes in the shape of a badly made loaf, is covered in icing sugar and packed full of raisins and sultanas. Its history involves Advent, Pope Innocent VIII and edicts surrounding turnip oil but that need not concern us here. The result is delicious and probably explains why most chaps called Gunther are carrying a few extra pounds.

It's not just the food and knick knacks, though, that make the German Christmas invasion so welcome. It's that we have had the nerve to turn off, in corners of the country at least, the flood of all things American. The products, the gimmicks, kids shouting "Mommy, Mommy!" and Bing Crosby singing that awful song.

The Yanks hi-jacked Yuletide years ago and have played a major role in turning it into the orgy of consumption, albeit swathed in sickly sentimentality, that it is now.

Don't forget that the familiar image we have of Santa Claus – fat, a huge grey beard, bright red outfit with white trimmings and a sleigh hauled by Prancer, Dancer and the rest – was in fact invented by an advertising agency hired by the Coca Cola Corporation to encourage the young to rot their teeth.

Far better to lean across the North Sea to a land that gave us the plain and simple Christmas tree, Stille Nacht and a St Nicholas who was fonder of goodwill and peace to all men than he was in marketing "a sparkling soft drink with vegetable extracts".

And there may be some good news in all this for the little girl in South Wales who was told that, due to health and safety regulations, she will have to wear a hard hat when she appears as Mary on a donkey at an open air nativity play.

If the event coincides with a German market she may be able to pick up a helmet with a big spike on top. Froehliche Weihnachten!

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