We all know that Birmingham isn’t shit. We’ve spent nearly 20 years telling people, showing the world, and often undermining our case. In our new book we lay out the ineffable reasons why we say ‘Birmingham: it’s not shit’ and attempt to eff it. It’s a great buy, and has this festive content in it.
I’m not going to argue that the German Market isn’t shit. Its shiteness is self-evident and widely talked about. It’s easy to slag it off, so first I will. There are crowds of people with no idea how to act or move in crowds. There’s the eye-damage from stray umbrella spokes. And there’s overpriced tat and foul tasting sweets sold from the same five or six stalls repeated over and over again. Over and over again like a twisted parody of the shops in your pisshole suburb’s high street. The high street that you’ve just come from on a bus that manages to be both clammy with condensation and uncomfortably full of coat. To drink, there’s headache beer and migraine wine liberally over-served to once-a-year drinkers. The weather is almost consistently a mixture of sleet and hail, so perfectly calibrated for its bleakness it’s enough to make you believe in an intelligent creator; and that he hates us.
For the longest time, people loved the German Market. To all Brummies it’s ‘The German Market’ no matter how hard the PR hacks push its real name, or how large they print the words on the banner. People would meet after work, parents would bring their kids, and hating it became akin to labeling yourself Scrooge McBastard and filming yourself buggering an elf on a shelf. But hate it I did. It’s unfair to label me a contrarian because that would imply some reactionary element, I’m not a contrarian, I’m just a weirdo.
But the German Market lost its shine. The prices, that were always a little high, carried on inflating while peoples’ wages were stretched a little further. Its popularity grew but the infrastructure to support it lagged. The local shops came to resent the two full months of having a carnival full of office drunks on their doorstep, and there’s only so many wooden croaking frogs you can buy your other half for Christmas before they start pissing in your morning coffee.
For a brief and glorious minute the public consensus and I were simpicato. I wasn’t expecting sky writing or a big party with ‘you were right all along’ banners, but a card might have been nice. Bastards. This, however, was to be short-lived. My editor (one of the other writers of this book, Jon Bounds) challenged me to write something in defence of the German Market. So I spent a very cold day from when it opened to near enough when it closed and wrote a nuanced and thoughtful piece called ‘Hate The German Market, Buy a Candle and Shut the Fuck Up’.
The thing I realised is that indeed, the Frankfurt Christmas Market is shit, but everything about Christmas is a little shit. The films, the songs, the parties, the food, all of it is fifty shades of shite. But that’s not the point: we not only endure them, we love them. Not despite the hokey saccharine artifice but because of it. The magic of Christmas is a suspension of our cynical adult brains, we drop the cool, the cynical, and jaded and wrap ourselves in the rituals and traditions we all share. We eat dry turkey, suffer the same cracker jokes and hide the same Lynx gift sets until we can re-gift them next year: because the things are rarely the thing. The love is the thing, the love is the point.
And if we decide that the way to show my friends I love them is standing in god’s own punishing sleet, drinking overpriced beer that will definitely give me a headache, I will gladly do it and keep the glass as a souvenir. Not because I need a heavy pint glass, as I said, the thing isn’t the thing. The pint glass is a night shared laughing with my friends.
Birmingham isn’t shit, but Christmas is, and that’s why we love it.