Festive market under Germany′s biggest Christmas tree opens, despite the pandemic | DW Travel | DW | 29.11.2021

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Festive market under Germany's biggest Christmas tree opens, despite the pandemic

Amid many Christmas market cancellations, the Dortmund Christmas market is welcoming visitors. But some changes and rules may dampen the festive spirit.

A large Christmas tree with many lights.

The main Christmas tree in Hansaplatz is a staple of the annual market

At dusk, numerous stalls of Dortmund's famous Christmas market on Hansaplatz are lit up and sparkling. The scents of bratwurst sausages, mulled wine and roasted almonds fill the air. In the center of it all is the world's largest Christmas tree. Reaching 45 meters (147 feet) and weighing 40,000 kilograms, the tree has been illuminating Hansaplatz since November 22 and, pandemic permitting, will stay in place until December 30. The giant tree is the centerpiece of the market, but it's not the only pine — 1,700 spruce trees lit up with 48,000 lights dot the Hansaplatz.

A tall Christmas tree towers over lights of market stalls.

The Dortmund Christmas market did not take place in 2020

The annual tree-lighting ceremony is typically a major event. Each year, Dortmund's mayor turns on the lights at 6 p.m. sharp. "This year, everything was a little different," Verena Winkelhaus, managing director of the Markthandel- und Schausteller-Verband Westphalia (Market trade and Showman Association) told DW. "Starting at 5 p.m., we set up a live feed," she said. Due to the pandemic, the lighting ceremony did not take place with guests on site — instead, it was streamed online. Yet despite the change, Winkelhaus is happy that the market could take place at all. "I'm glad I didn't spend the whole year working towards this for nothing," she said.

People stand around colorfully decorated stalls in the market.

This year, only people who are vaccinated or have recently recovered from COVID-19 can visit

The '2G' rule applies

The 300 stalls have been reorganized to create more space in the market, which is spread out over several locations. In addition, eight new light installations await visitors at the various locations this year, providing additional illumination in the city center.

Yet not everyone will be able to attend — the "2G" rule applies everywhere, so only those who are vaccinated or have recently recovered from COVID-19 can visit the market. Instead of showing vaccination certificates at the entrance, random checks are carried out at the stands and by officials in the market. After they are checked, visitors receive a wristband which can not be taken off and given to someone else. Anyone who is found breaking the rules will receive a 250 Euro ($280) fine. In addition, it is compulsory to wear a mask everywhere in the market.

People walk down a nearly empty path next to stalls at the Christmas market.

Fewer visitors, and more spacing — this year the Dortmund Christmas market looks very different from other years

Coronavirus rules dampen Christmas spirit

Restrictions like these are not welcomed by everyone. An employee working at one of the Christmas market stalls, who asked not to be named, complained about the "2G" rule. Instead, she is in favor of a general testing requirement. So far, she hasn't seen a big difference in the behavior of the attendees this year. While market-goers are perhaps a bit more reserved, it's the same as ever. She said the weekends are especially crowded, "as if nothing was wrong," she told DW.

Watch video 02:57

Coronavirus: No Dresden Christmas market

Others, however, have mixed feelings about the Christmas markets. Elmar Gusejnov of market vender Royal Nuts described the mood as tense. "We have concerns that the Christmas market will be shut down," he said. However, he feels the checks are working well and most people are abiding by the rules. He points out that the atmosphere is much more relaxed during the day than after nightfall, when it is more crowded — but the fact that more space was made in the market area makes him feel safer.

Elli Hadjibeigi, who spoke to DW while visiting the Christmas market, is also happy to be back at after a year's break. But she is concerned about the rising case numbers of coronavirus infections and doesn't feel comfortable visiting all places at the market. "I hope people will just be considerate and get tested more," she says.

A couple stand at a booth with stuffed animals.

Marion and Jürgen Kiehl who volunteer at the Aids Help booth are happy with the turnout

Still crowded at night

Marion and Jürgen Kiehl are pleasantly surprised by this year's turnout. The couple volunteers at the Dortmund AIDS Help booth. "People are very relaxed and do not feel like they are being controlled," says Marion Kiehl, despite the number of random document checks carried out on the market. "But it is noticeably different, there are fewer people visiting the market than in previous years," she says, while pointing out that they aren't selling as much merchandise as in the past, which is a downside.

Nearby, people gather around the Christmas tree at Hansaplatz, enthusiastically taking pictures. Although it is still unclear whether the Christmas market will be able to stay open until the end of December as planned, at least, for now, the festive spirit is in the air.