Vigilance and Glühwein Christmas Markets Offer Defiant Cheer in Face of Terror Threat
Germany is currently threatened with terror, government officials warn. But visitors to the thousands of Christmas markets that opened across the country this week are defying those fears with greater vigilance and piping hot mugs of Glühwein.
The smell of Christmas is wafting through the air across Germany this week -- the delightful citrusy scent of the mulled wine known as Glühwein, ginger bread and grilled sausages as they are served from quaint wooden stalls.
In Cologne, one of the country's prettiest markets is snuggled around the Rhine River metropolis' spectacular Gothic cathedral. In Nuremberg's Christkindlesmarkt, the city's Christmas Angel is once again guarding over the dozens of stands selling decorations, crafts, toys, sweets and food that attracted close to 3 million visitors last year. In Berlin, men dressed as Santa Claus can be seen riding a looping roller coaster at Alexanderplatz, while in Hamburg, scantily clad women did a striptease for Santa at the "erotic" Christmas market in the notorious Reeperbahn red light district.
All across Germany, the country's world-famous markets -- replicated in nations the world over -- opened for the 2010 season this week. More than 2,500 Christmas markets dot the landscape in cities and hamlets from the Baltic Sea to the Alps. They provide up to 188,000 jobs, according to the stallkeeper industry association BSM, and are an important part of the country's economy -- at least for the month of December.
The tradition is the same this year as it has been for centuries, even if the specter of terror has dampened the mood in major cities. Recent concrete terror warnings have seen a massive increase in police security in the German capital city of Berlin and also at major Christmas markets. Officials fear that the fairs, which are visited by millions of tourists, could be vulnerable as potential targets. Security patrols have been increased as a result, and the sight of armed police officers is more common. Police in many cities have had to cancel their vacation plans as security is ramped up.
Ten years ago, French and German police foiled a planned terrorist attack on the Christmas market in Strasbourg, France, just over the border. The threat, it seems, hasn't disappeared.
"As long as the Christmas markets are going, we have to assume there could be an attack at any time," Rainer Wendt, the head of a major German police union, told the Neue Osnabrücker Zeitung newspaper last week.
'I'll Be Taking My Children to the Christmas Markets'
Stallkeepers at the markets say they are responding to the threat of terrorism with greater vigilance. Werner Hammerschmidt, an executive at stallkeeper association BSM, told the mass-circulation Bild newspaper that not only Christmas markets, but "any gathering of people" could be a possible terrorist target. "We cannot allow ourselves to be subordinated into panic and overreaction because of the threat of terror," he told the paper.
For many, the lure of Glühwein season is likely to be greater than fears of terror threats that may never materialize. And for the weak of heart, one can always order a shot of rum to go with that mulled wine.
Jörg Zierke, the head of Germany's Federal Criminal Police Office, told reporters earlier this week that there was "no reason to cancel any kind of public events" as a result of the terror threat. "In any case, I will be taking my children to the Christmas market," he said.