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Europe’s Christmas Markets Open as COVID Cases Rise

The Christmas tree stands tall in the center of this central German city’s main plaza, chestnuts and sugared almonds are roasting, and children are clambering onboard the merry-go-round exactly as they did before the epidemic. However, a spike in coronavirus infections has cast a pall over Frankfurt’s Christmas market.

Masked clients must travel via a one-way door to a fenced-off wine hut, stopping at the hand sanitizer station, to have a mug of mulled wine – a delightful rite of winter in pre-pandemic days. Security guards examine vaccination certificates elsewhere before allowing clients to get their hands on the sizzling sausages and kebabs.

Despite the inconveniences of the pandemic, stall owners selling ornaments, roasted chestnuts, and other holiday-themed items in Frankfurt and other European cities are relieved to be open at all for their first Christmas market in two years, especially as COVID-19 infections reach record highs in Germany, Austria, and other countries. Merchants that have already opened their doors are expecting for a fraction of the pre-pandemic holiday sales that may make or break their enterprises.

Others aren’t as fortunate. In Germany and Austria, numerous well-known Christmas activities have been canceled. The money that tourists would spend in restaurants, hotels, and other companies would be lost as a result of the market closures.

Jens Knauer, who creates elaborate, lit Christmas-themed silhouettes for people to display in their windows, said his only wish was for the Frankfurt market to “remain open as long as possible.”

For many merchants and restaurateurs, Christmas accounts for 40% of annual income, but “with me, it’s 100%,” Knauer said. “I can make it through the year if I can stay open for three weeks.”

Other Christmas markets in Germany’s Bavaria area, which includes Nuremberg, one of the largest and best-known marketplaces, were unexpectedly shut down, putting vendors on edge. In the midst of mounting illnesses, officials in the eastern Saxony area abruptly imposed fresh limitations, forcing stunned exhibitors in Dresden to pack up their belongings. Austria’s markets were shuttered Monday as a 10-day lockdown began, with many stall owners expecting to reopen if the lockdown isn’t prolonged.

Markets frequently draw throngs of people to shop row after row of ornament and food vendors, generating money for the nearby hotels and restaurants. The crowds at Frankfurt’s market were significantly reduced this year, with vendors spread out across a greater space.

Heiner Roie, who owns a mulled wine hut in the style of a wine barrel, expects half as much business in 2020 as he did in 2019. A closure would create “immense financial devastation — it might lead to full bankruptcy since we haven’t produced any money in two years and our financial reserves are depleted at some point,” according to the company.

“I think we’ll manage it,” he added, assuming individuals exercise some self-control and follow the health guidelines.

Visitors to Bettina Roie’s booth offering Swiss raclette, a popular melted cheese dish, are welcomed with a notice requesting that they present their immunization certificates.

“It’s a terrific notion,” she added, “because what we need is space, room, to preserve some distance from one other.” “Unlike a brick-and-mortar restaurant, they have their own structure and walls, but we can respond to the conditions.”

The extended Roie family owns and manages the merry-go-round on Frankfurt’s central Roemerberg plaza, where the market debuted on Monday.

It was critical to reopen, according to Roie, “so that we can provide the people a little joy even throughout the epidemic – that’s what we do, we bring back joy.”

The recent increase of COVID-19 cases has cast doubt on Europe’s economic recovery, prompting some analysts to lower their growth forecasts for the remaining months of the year.

Holger Schmieding, chief economist at Berenberg Bank in London, has lowered his projection for the eurozone’s 19 nations using the currency from 0.7 percent to 0.5 percent for the last three months of the year. However, he pointed out that the surge of diseases is having less of an impact on the economy as a whole since immunizations have lowered serious illnesses and many businesses have learnt to adapt.

That comes as cold comfort to Germany’s DEHOGA restaurant and hotel organization, which has warned of a “storm of cancellations,” with members reporting every second Christmas party or other special event being canceled.

Other European countries that haven’t been impacted as severely by the virus are reverting to old habits. The annual Christmas market in Madrid’s Plaza Mayor, in the heart of the Spanish city, is set to reopen on Friday in its pre-pandemic proportions.

In a country where 89 percent of individuals aged 12 and over are completely vaccinated, there will be 104 kiosks selling nativity figurines, decorations, and traditional delicacies. Last year, the number of vendors was cut in half, and the number of people allowed in the area was limited. Masks and social isolation will continue to be required, according to the organizers.

Christmas markets in Budapest, Hungary’s capital, have been cordoned off, and visitors must show evidence of vaccination before entering.

The limits originally alarmed Gyorgy Nagy, a maker and marketer of handcrafted glazed china, who predicted fewer customers. However, thus far, business has been terrific.

He stated, “I don’t believe the fence is horrible.” “At first, we were terrified about it, but I believe it will be alright….” I don’t believe it will be an issue.”

Even though new COVID-19 cases have surpassed heights witnessed during a disastrous spike last spring, the markets’ openness represents a larger range of weak regulations in Hungary. Last week saw more illnesses confirmed than any previous week since the outbreak began.

A spokesman for the Advent Bazilika Christmas market claimed the market’s safeguards go above and beyond what the government requires, such as requiring all sellers to wear masks and those selling food and beverages to be vaccinated.

While sales have been somewhat lower than before the epidemic, Bea Lakatos, a seller of scented soaps and oils at the Budapest market, said, “I wasn’t anticipating so many international tourists given the limitations.”

She remarked this week, “I don’t believe things are that horrible so far.” “The weekend got off to a great start.”

Last weekend, Vienna’s marketplaces were filled with people looking for little Christmas happiness before Austria’s lockdown. Closures last year and the current limitations, according to merchants, have had terrible implications.

Laura Brechmann, who sold lit stars at the Spittelberg market before the lockdown began, said, “The primary sales for the whole year are made during the Christmas markets – this stop is a significant financial loss.” “We’re hoping for a reopening, but I don’t think it’ll happen.”

The tourism business in Austria’s Salzkammergut area, which includes ski resorts and the scenic town of Hallstatt, is hoping that the national lockdown will not be extended through December 13 and that it will be able to recoup some much-needed cash.

The tourism board alone lost 1 million euros ($1.12 million) in nightly visitor tax payments during last winter’s protracted lockdowns, not to mention the significant financial losses suffered by hotels, restaurants, and ski resorts.

“Overall, I believe we can rescue the winter season if things open up again before Christmas,” said Christian Schirlbauer, chief of tourism for the Dachstein-Salzkammergut area. “However, it will depend on whether or not the number of cases decreases.”

Brian Cooper
Brian Cooper
Brian Cooper is a global reporter for TheOptic, focusing on bringing insights and developments for global and local breaking news daily. With almost seven years of experience covering topics from all over the world, Brian strives to make sure you stay up-to-date with what's going on in the world.
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