From the Mouth of Maddox: Is it Christmas already?

Obviously, it’s not, it’s not even all that close. After a few weeks embracing the plus 30 degree temperature, you could even be forgiven for not even considering the looking cold, dark, snow engulfing winter that is inevitably going to swallow Germany into dormant hibernation. However, there is a company here that has no idea at all that it is August and that there is no need to be trying to peddle your festive wares to the masses. That company is called Käthe Wohlfhart.

The main Käthe Wohlfhart shop is in a small place called Rothenburg ob der Tauber, just over 100km from Nürnberg, a lovely little town which has become a bit of a draw for countless Japanese tourists due to the use of the city in a promotional video campaign aired in Japan. It is a very pleasant little town which offers a wonderfully stereotypical rendering of what the majority of the world thinks of when they imagine Germany. The truth is that such towns are not all that common, and that they way it plays up to this image is a bit sickening, but it pleases the heck out of the throngs of Japanese, Americans and Koreans who make the arduous journey there each and every day.

Come the season of Christmas, Käthe Wohlfhart shops start popping up all over the place, primarily in rented Ice cream parlours who know their chance of rapid trade is pretty low. All in all, there are 11 permanent stores in Germany, each one adorned in festive nonsense and Christmas lights, they are pretty abhorrent. To this figure we can add the temporary ice-cream parlour conversions and stalls at Weihnachtsmärkte (Christmas markets) all over the nation. It is clear from this that Käthe Wohlfhart are quite the Christmas force, and that’s all well and good, Germany is known the world over for all things Christmassy, but it is worrying to think that although Käthe Wohlfhart are dominant, they are far from being alone in being in the Christmas all year round market. There are bloody loads of them.

Whenever friends or relatives come over here to visit me and check out Bavaria, I feel obliged to take them to Rothenburg ob der Tauber to fulfil the stereotype they have in their heads as well as allowing them to visit the curious main Käthe Wohlfhart store. The place is a veritable bonanza of all things Christmas, room after room bedazzled with a staggering array of baubles, ornaments, lights, trees and other such festive things. The whole place feels like Disney on steroids, the walls screaming out to you that Christmas is only just around the corner. Walking back out , you are met with the surreal realisation that it’s just another day and that there is no need to panic buy gifts for friends and relatives. The place gets so much attention from tourists that in the winter that you actually have to pay to go into the store, regardless of whether you are interested in purchasing a giant nutcracker or not. People pay too, they pay only to go in, that’s how full-on and mythical this place is.

As I said, Germany is inextricably linked to Christmas, demonstrated wonderfully by the vast selection of Christmas markets in almost every German town and the ever more common bastardised versions popping up all over Europe. In fact, between 1840 and the start of World War II, the German village of Lauscha , some 150km from Nürnberg, produced the vast majority of the world’s baubles, even accounting for 95% of baubles adorning Christmas trees in the United States. Christmas in Germany is a wonderful thing indeed, but it can all be a bit much due to the fact that so many tourists and locals swarm to the Weihnachtsmärkte to have a wander around the claustrophobic stalled streets with a glass of Glühwein (mulled wine) or Feuerzangenbowle (super-sweet mulled wine with rum and sugar melted into it, the whole thing ablaze). It is hard not to feel in the Christmas spirit in such surroundings, even if every move is one of jeopardy and elbows.

You can rest assured that Christmas is still a few months away, but if you do want to experience a Christmas of epic proportions, there are few better things to do than to travel to a nice German city with a huge Christmas market. If, however, you find the thought of crowds of epic proportions mortifying, you can simply go to Käthe Wohlfhart in Rothenburg ob der Tauber and have a wander around their Christmas madness and have a 30 minute Christmas instead, it’s a dash less stressful.


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