Birmingham, England. Every year in the weeks leading up to Christmas, the city is invaded by Germans who bring with them the Frankfurt Christmas Market!Year upon year it has grown in size. It draws thousands of Birmingham folk to enjoy the atmosphere and all the picturesque, German Christmassy stuff.
But this year I ventured out to visit and enjoy the ambience of this spectacle. It could be different; perhaps I was deluded before and the market had before caught me on a particularly grumpy day. Allow me to talk you through my Wednesday evening at the German Christmas Market.
I can take it or leave it; I’m not particularly overwhelmed by this event. To me, it’s a chance to see a load of homesick Germans selling beer, sausage and tat that a 34-year-old man has no interest in. Don’t get me wrong, it’s lovely to look at. But it’s a bit like Kim Kardashian. Initially you’re attracted to what you’re looking at but when you start to invest anything more and look below the sparkling surface, there’s not much more that really interests you. Besides, there isn’t anything that you’d be happy to take home to show your Mum.
I was attending with two of my comedy writing peers, Matthew and David. We’re a small comedy-writing group of six, thrown together by a con artist. That’s another story, but it’s been great to meet like-minded lovers of comedy writing, to discuss comedy and share ideas, gain critique and expand our knowledge and network.
Only three of us could make it Wednesday evening. I was last to arrive and so to join my writing brothers; I went and ordered a beer. I paid with a tenner; I received a sturdy tankard glass containing a pint of strong lager, a plastic chip and not much change. This was because they were anticipating that I might want to keep the glass and if I returned it with the chip it would prove I was the rightful owner and I’d get some money back. It was a nice glass, but it was a bit presumptuous to think that I’d want to steal it. Birmingham clearly has a reputation. But it’s completely unwarranted in my opinion. We are a kind, loveable and friendly people.
“Someone got glassed up here on Monday night,” said Matthew when I returned with my beer. On a Monday? At a Christmas market? Who glasses someone at a bloody Christmas market? Although, as I looked at the sturdy glass tankard I was holding, I couldn’t help but think that despite it being an atrocious thing to do, it did show a certain amount of ingenuity.
The beer was smooth and strong for a lightweight so it was just the one pint for me. So I returned to the bar with my tankard and chip. The lady serving asked if I wanted another. “No thanks, I’m feeling a little drunk,” I said as the friendly affable Brit. Hey, I was doing my bit for European relations here. I smiled and so did she. Well, I say smile, it was more like a half smile. Actually, on reflection, I think if you broke a smile down into thousandths, I’d go as far as to say it was 3/1000’s of a smile. Or it might have been a tick.
Food! It was time to sample the delicacy that is the German sausage and no, that’s not a euphemism. I approached a Bratwurst stand and ordered a standard hotdog. The lady grabbed a small sliced roll. It was a little bit larger than a choking hazard. The woman then shoved the sausage in it with the same disdain as someone throwing an ex-lovers underpants into a bin bag. The sausage dwarfed this bread roll. She thrust this thing into my face and demanded £4 for it. It was then I realised that this wasn’t a hotdog. This was a German sausage with a bread handle. Oh well, I thought, It’ll probably be nothing short of a taste sensation. It was, after all, a German sausage, made by Germans and sold by Germans.
It wasn’t. I’d added ketchup and mustard but still I couldn’t evade the overwhelming saltiness of this sausage. Who would have thought that extortion tastes so salty? There’s a gag there about sex trafficking, but I won’t go there. The sausage contained the equivalent of a weekly dose of salt. Probably, to encourage the sale of more beer. I was starting to feel myself dehydrate. I was fast resembling a raisin. I had learnt my friends, that I hadn’t just purchased a hotdog, I’d purchased disappointment for a sweet £4!
I still ate the bloody thing. I was hungry and I’d spent good money for this shit. Damn it I’ll eat that disgusting salty German sausage! Again, that’s not a euphemism.
Matthew had also bought one and he wasn’t exactly overjoyed with his. David was waiting for our reactions before buying one. David’s not stupid!
We concentrated on the evening’s entertainment. A fat German bloke with a Karaoke machine. I’ll level with you, he wasn’t so much a singer, more of a butcher. It’s kind of imperative that the words have to be sung in time with the music. He should have stuck to some German songs or even some Hasselhoff tracks.
Between songs he’d try to get the crowd pumped by shouting, “Where is Birmingham?!” Only the drunk would reply with a “Yey!” I couldn’t help think firstly, who tries to enthuse a crowd by asking them directions? You don’t see Prince get on stage and say, “I need directions to Walthamstow!”
Secondly, doesn’t this bloke know where he is? “You’re here!” I shouted. “Look around at these underwhelmed, disappointed and dehydrated people. These are Brummies you’re punishing here!”
Then it got worse. He passed the mic to a female colleague who proceeded to sing Amy Winehouse’s version of Valerie. It was bad. “It’d help if she could pronounce her V’s,” observed David. He wasn’t wrong. It’d help if she had a gag, I thought. “Sounds like a pet shop burning down,” I said. “I feel like I’m in hell right now,” said Matthew, polishing off the remains of his sausage handle. She followed up with that classic Christmas hit, The lion sleeps tonight, demonstrating impeccable timing. Well, like that of Network Rail after gypsies steal the power cables.
She passed the mic back to the bloke. “Where is Birmingham!” Good God, this bloke’s still bloody lost!
I was still hungry and we decided to wander to the other part of the market which was less German, on the other side of the demolition site where they are tearing down the brutalist block building that was the old library.
I looked for more food and there was plenty to choose from. There was also plenty of stalls selling tat that I have no interest in whatsoever.It was just a case of damage limitation now. I’d been ripped off with the sausage; I was going to be ripped off some more. £6 for a burger, £5.50 for a hot dog with onions! I opted for a £4.50 falafel. The main draw being, that I was getting more value for money. Making a falafel wrap is so much more labour intensive isn’t it? It would thus leave me with less of a bitter taste in my mouth.
Matthew had opted for a bag of pork scratchings. Perhaps he hadn’t yet had enough salt. David played it safe and had French fries. Both of whom had finished their meals by the time I arrived with my falafel. Okay, some might have called it slow service, I called it getting more value for my money. It actually tasted okay. Just missed that certain meaty quality that I like. No! That’s not a euphemism either!
It was time to bring the evening to a close. As we entered the German Market zone, the fat bloke was still going strong and still lost. “Where is Birmingham?!” I found myself wishing I still had that glass.
Same time next year then?
Merry Christmas folks!