FRANKFURT (Germany) — A holiday tree towers over Frankfurt’s main square. The chestnuts, sugared almonds, and chestnuts have been roasted and children are clambering onto the merry-go round just as they did before the epidemic. However, a spike in coronavirus infection has created a shaky feeling over Frankfurt’s Christmas markets.
Masked customers need to pass through a one way entrance to a fenced off wine hut. They will then stop at the hand sanitizer station in order to enjoy a cup of mulled wines. Security officers also check the vaccination certificates of customers before they allow them to enjoy steaming sausages or kebabs.
Despite the inconveniences of pandemic, stall owners selling ornaments and roasted chestnuts in Frankfurt and other European cities are happy to be open for their first Christmas market since two years. This is especially true considering new restrictions that took effect in Germany and Austria after COVID-19 infection reached record levels. Merchants who opened their doors are hopeful of achieving at least a fraction the pre-pandemic holiday sales.
Others are not so fortunate. In Germany and Austria, many of the most popular holiday events were cancelled. The market closings result in the loss of money tourists could have spent on restaurants, hotels, and other businesses.
Jens Knauer, a maker of intricate, lighted silhouettes with Christmas themes that can be hung in windows, stated that his goal was to see the Frankfurt market “stay open as long as it can.”
Knauer stated that Christmas represents 40% of the annual revenue of many restaurateurs and retailers, but it is 100% for him. “If I can keep my doors open for three weeks, it’s possible to make it through the entire year,” Knauer said.
After other Christmas markets in Germany’s Bavaria area were shut down abruptly, purveyors are now on edge. This includes Nuremberg which is home to one of Germany’s most famous markets. After authorities in eastern Saxony imposed new restrictions due to rising infections, stunned exhibitors had to pack their goods and leave Dresden. Austria’s markets were closed Monday due to a 10-day lockdown. Many stall owners hope they will be able to reopen the market if the lockdown is not extended.
Markets attract a large crowd to sell ornaments and food, which in turn generates revenue for nearby hotels and restaurants. Frankfurt’s market saw a much smaller crowd this year. Stalls were spread over a greater area.
Heiner Roie runs a mulled-wine hut that looks like a wine barrel. He said he expects to see half of the business he had in 2019. A shutdown could cause “immense economic damage — it might lead to total ruin because we haven’t made any income for two years and at some point, our financial reserves are exhausted.”
He said that if people are disciplined and adhere to the health precautions, they can manage it.
Bettina Roie greets her guests next door with a sign asking for their vaccination certificates. She also has a stand that serves Swiss Raclette, a popular dish of melted cheese.
She said that the market has a “good concept” because all we need is space and room to keep our distance. “They have their building, their walls, and we can adapt to the conditions, which is a big difference to brick-and-mortar restaurants.”
The extended Roie family, a fifth-generation exhibitor company, also runs the merry-go around on Frankfurt’s central Roemerberg square. Monday opened.
Roie stated that it was crucial to reopen the hospital “so we can bring people even during the pandemic some joy — that’s exactly what we do, that’s why we bring back joy.”
Recent COVID-19 case spikes have sunk Europe’s economic recovery prospects, prompting some economists and others to hedge their hopes for growth in the last months of the year.
Holger Schmieding is the chief economist at Berenberg Bank, London. He has reduced his forecasts for the final three months of this year in the 19 euro-using countries from 0.7% to 0.5%. He noted that the impact of the epidemic is less widespread because many businesses have adjusted and vaccinations have helped reduce serious illness.
This is cold comfort for Germany’s DEHOGA hotel and restaurant association. They warned of a “hail” and stated that members were reporting every second Christmas party was being cancelled.
Others in Europe are returning to their old ways, even though the pandemic hasn’t hit as hard. Friday will see the traditional Christmas market in Madrid’s Plaza Mayor reopen at the same size as it was before the pandemic.
In a country with 89% of all children aged 12 and older being fully vaccinated, it will feature 104 stalls selling traditional sweets, decorations, and nativity figurines. It had only half the number and limited the number allowed to the square last year. Organizers stated that social distancing and masks will be mandatory.
Budapest is Hungary’s capital. Christmas markets are closed and visitors will need to show proof of vaccination in order to enter.
Gyorgy Nagy is a seller and producer of handmade glazed china. He said that the restrictions initially raised concerns about the possibility of less customers. However, business is good so far.
He said, “I don’t think the fence’s bad.” “At the start, we were scared of this fence, really scared. But, I think it is fine. … It won’t be a problem, I think.”
Markets opening reflect a wider range of restrictions in Hungary, even though new COVID-19 patients have outnumbered the peaks that were seen last spring during the devastating spike. Last week saw more cases of infection than any other week since the pandemic began.
Representatives for Advent Bazilika Christmas Market stated that many of their measures go beyond what the government requires, such as the requirement that all vendors wear masks or that those selling food and drink be vaccinated.
Bea Lakatos, who sells fragrant oils and soaps at the Budapest market said that although sales are down slightly since the pandemic, she didn’t expect so many foreign buyers given the restrictions.
She stated this week, “I believe things aren’t that bad so far.” “The weekend began particularly strong.”
Vienna’s markets were packed last weekend, as people wanted to celebrate Christmas before Austria’s lockdown. According to merchants, the closures of last year and new restrictions had devastating consequences.
Laura Brechmann, who sold illuminated stars at Spittelberg’s market before the lockdown began, stated that “the main sales for the entire year are made in the Christmas markets — and this pause is an enormous financial loss.” “We hope that things will reopen but I don’t expect it.”
The tourism industry in Austria’s Salzkammergut region hopes that the national lockdown will not be extended beyond Dec. 13, and that it can generate some much-needed revenue.
The extended lockdowns of last winter cost the tourism board 1 million euros ($1.12million) in total, not counting the enormous financial losses suffered by hotels, restaurants and resorts.
“Overall, I do think that if things open up again before Christmas, we can save the winter season,” said Christian Schirlbauer, head of tourism for the Dachstein-Salzkammergut region. It will all depend on the number of cases.
Emily Schultheis reported in Vienna, while Justin Spike was in Budapest, Hungary. Aritz Parra contributed from Madrid to this report.