There are around 500 Santas in Berlin alone but Hu Ping Chen is the most senior among them. For more than 20 years he has spent Christmas on the road handing out presents as Santa Claus.
Santa Claus is international, says Berlin's Hu Ping Chen
Seven-year-old Rhea is excited. She was just about to go to bed, and now she's getting to meet Santa Claus himself. There he stands in his red and white coat, his pointed hat and his big black boots.
In fact, it's not just any Santa, it's Berlin's most famous one. Hu Ping Chen has been working as a Santa Claus for the past years. There are about 500 Santas in Berlin alone, but Hu is the most senior among them. He trains them, but he also still goes out on the road for handing out presents.
"I first started when a friend asked me if I could help her out. She worked in a kindergarten and the man who was supposed to play Santa Claus had backed out, so they needed someone in a pinch," he recalls.
"I was pretty nervous - I didn't really know what I was doing. But everyone had a good time. If you're Santa Claus, everyone is so happy to see you. Everyone becomes a child, and that's a pretty terrific feeling."
Santa Claus is international
Hu is psychologist by day, and Santa Claus at Christmas
Hu Ping Chen's day job is as a psychologist in a hospital. He was born in Berlin to Chinese parents, although he doesn't speak any Chinese himself. They were Christians so they celebrated Christmas, but the festival seems more like a nice tradition to him now than a religious duty.
"I may look Chinese, but when I'm dressed up as Santa Claus, nobody asks where I come from. Santa Claus is international."
But he does have to look authentic. Hu Ping Chen grows a real beard every year from the summer onwards, and he sprays it white for his job as Santa. He paints his cheeks red and fills his sack with golden chocolate coins. He has to be able to improvise and needs to know a lot of Christmas songs.
With Rhea he sits down to play the song "Oh Tannenbaum" on the piano. The little girl tells him she can't play the tune perfectly, so Hu simply tells her to play not very perfectly. She works hard on the piano while every else is singing along.
Different traditions around the world
Yet Hu's customers are not just children. Some of the children whom he visited 20 years ago book him for their company Christmas party. After all those years, he knows an awful lot about Christmas and its traditions.
There are some 500 Santa Clauses in Berlin alone
He knows that Americans want to see Santa Claus on December 25, and that Eastern Europeans expect a visit from Father Frost on New Years Eve. There's lots of food at Russian gatherings, and you have to give presents to Japanese people with two hands.
But he does notice some changes coming about - far more presents are bought and fewer of them are home-made. But one Christmas party stands out for him
"There was a woman who had inherited some money. So we gave out presents in a hospice for children. The woman bought the presents, and we gave them to the children at a beautiful party. It was very moving. We enjoyed ourselves, but there was a strange feeling, because we knew that for some of the children, this would be their last Christmas party."
But, of course, the main job of a Santa Claus is not to let sad thoughts take over: children in broken families, where the parents are unemployed, poor children - for 30 minutes they can forget their real problems.
Rhea is having a great time. She's got a stuffed animal from his bag and has got to sit on his lap. But even Santa Claus does have to leave eventually. There are still many more families to visit.
Author: Aygul Cizmecioglu (ai)
Editor: Chuck Penfold