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Germany’s Triple-X Xmas Market
By Alan Parker
HAMBURG — Christmas markets are one of the seasonal joys of Germany.
From late November to Dec. 23, civic squares across the country suddenly sprout bustling fairytale villages of crafters and vendors in kitschy wooden huts, sparkling outdoor cafes and wine bars, grills of bratwurst sizzling over open fires and, of course, convivial crowds of shoppers, drinkers, eaters and gawkers.
But the Christmas market in the St. Pauli neighbourhood of Hamburg comes with a unique, sometimes startling sizzle that has nothing to do with bratwurst.
St. Pauli, you see, is home to Hamburg’s once-notorious (now consumer-friendly) Reeperbahn red light district. And the local Christmas market reflects the port district’s native customs and practices in all their gaudy, salacious glory.
Instead of manger scenes and salad bowls, the wooden crafts on sale tend to be hand-carved dildos. The designer chocolates are usually in the shape of various parts of the human anatomy. And the elves are likely to be exotic dancers wearing tassle-tipped pasties (for modesty’s sake, if not thermal sense) as they go about Santa’s business.
Exotic dancer Eve Champagne and drag queen Olivia Jones — the 6-foot-2 unofficial mayor of the Reeperbahn — pose during the 2011 Santa Pauli Christmas Market. Here’s a short video clip on last year’s market from YouTube.
The combined craft fair/winter carnival/erotic supermarket is called Santa Pauli Christmas Market and it covers two blocks of open space in the middle of the Reeperbahn, sandwiched between the street that gives the area its name and the battalion of parka-clad (and legally sanctioned) prostitutes lining the sidewalk near the local police station.
A Salvation Army youth group carries a wooden cross past street prostitutes in Hamburg’s Reeperbahn red light district where the X-rated Santa Pauli Christmas Market is held every December.
The Santa Pauli Christmas Market is not for the faint of heart, but it’s also decidedly tame compared to some of the more extreme entertainment options — from S&M clubs to bustling bordellos — offered just down the street behind closed doors.
There is a striptease tent set up at one end of the Christmas village, but its occupants are members of what’s dubbed an “American-style” burlesque troupe that specializes in the naughty-but-nice titillations of classic 1950s bump-and-grind routines. (Santa would be so pleased.)
A more ribald entertainment tent is the nearby “porno karaoke” where boisterous patrons are invited to supply running dialogue and commentary on porn movies (with the sound turned off) as they throw back glasses of glühwein (hot mulled wine — a ghastly German winter tradition) and schnapps.
At the other end of the market is an open-air stage where bands and cabaret acts perform nightly as bundled-up visitors crowd the outdoor bars and make themselves comfortable on all-weather sofas under heat-spewing gas torches.
In between, the dozens of booths selling crafts, candies, novelties and other sexual (sorry, “erotic”) merchandise are relatively innocuous — certainly no more flagrant than the window displays in the sex shops lining the Reeperbahn. Even the local pro soccer team, FC St. Pauli, has a booth in the market selling fan gear.
Chief organizer Jochen Bohnsack, who started the Santa Pauli Christmas Market in 2006, makes a point of keeping it that way — naughty but not nasty. He even keeps out the big sex-supermarket chains (a thriving industry in Germany) so the small entrepreneur is showcased. And he also gently steers away any oblivious crafts people who don’t understand that the Santa Pauli market isn’t like most other family-oriented Christmas markets.
One very popular vendor hut is the WaldMichlsHoldi display selling wooden dildos handcrafted by a multi-generational family business. With more than 70 different shapes and sizes (and a variety of colours), there’s a WaldMichlsHoldi to suit every taste and inclination, patriarch Elmar Thüry says — and he says the spruce gooses finished in a non-toxic, environmentally friendly varnish are guaranteed not to splinter.
As I said, not for the faint of heart. And not particularly Christmas-y either — except for the cutaway Santa costumes and jingle-bell pasties worn by the strippers.
But when in Rome, do as the Romans do. And when on the Reeperbahn in December, go to the Santa Pauli Christmas Market.