Yinka Olatunbosun recounts the enchanting Christmas Market experience in Alexanderplatz, Berlin while examining the possibility of seeing a Nigerian version of the all-round cultural and theatrical fun-fair
Elena Zondler, our guide had prepped us for the visit to theChristmas Market at Alexanderplatz, Berlin by warning us to be vigilant. All 12 journalists namely Stephanie Adams, Hannah Ajakaiye, Linda Akhigbe, Umar Aliyu, Amrah Aliyu, Amzat Ajibola, Faruk Dalhatu, Yusuf Ibrahim, Jamila DikkosJabrilla, Ibrahim Jungudo, Vanessa Offiong and YinkaOlatunbosun walked through the magnificent entrance of the market that was shimmering with colourful festive lights.Though Elena offered us the freedom to roam the market freely for 40minutes, most of the women journalists stuck together and like newly-borns, we followed Elena everywhere she turned, afraid to get lost in the crowd. That would have been easy with the aroma of barbecue wafting through and the enveloping smoke from the steak.
The 20 Celsius weather was another reason to stay close for everyone who wasn’t eating had his hands in the pockets or gloves. For a newcomer, the “Gendarmenmarkt” is stunning; absolutely luxurious with wooden stalls that paraded food, drinks, crafts, decorations and souvenirs. It was definitely not a night to forget one’s purse or money in the hotel roombecause Berlin, though ahead of Nigeria in technological development is not like Lagos where traders accept money transfer or own a POS machine.
Cash transactions reign in Berlin. But Hannah, from The Nation and currently a Chevening Scholar from the University of Sussex was willing to share her little snack, with a gentle reminder on the Nigerian dinner that would hold in less than an hour. Many home-sick ones amongst us had been distracted by the news of this trip to Afrobase, a Nigerian restaurant somewhere in the outskirts of Berlin so much that we just surfed through the market that was packed with visitors, some of whom dared to push their pram through the crowd. Crowded places like the Christmas Market had been the target of terrorists in the past.
For instance in 2016, a deadly attack at Breitscheidplatz had left 12 people dead after a truck driver plowed through the crowd. But the fear of the unknown, if any, evaporated at the sight of the well-lit stage where a German-speaking compere ushered in a Ballet group made of young girls clad in white dresses and hair styled in ponytails. In spite of the language barrier, the experience was heart-warming as the ballerinas served the audience with coupes, show-stopping ciseaux and perfectly timed battement that matched the Christmas-themed classic songs renting the air.
As the show ended, we felt the warmth of some German visitors as they playful mimicked our poses and even volunteered to help take an iconic picture: five blacks to one white woman.
The arrival of our Germany-based Nigerian host, Rex Osasignalled the end to the tour of the scintillating market which in terms of crowd surge is a child’s play to the Idumota, Lagos Island experience. Though similar festive markets have been activated in Lagos at the Muri Okunola Park, in Victoria Island, nothing comes quite close to the Berlin experience with the full-scale theatrical spectacle that added glamour to the market square affair.
Berlin boasts of month-long multiple Christmas markets. Locals said the merchandise are not necessarily cheaper than the retail price, but its atmosphere of love and feast remains priceless. Top security and close proximity to train stations, bus stops and trams may have accounted for the success stories of Christmas markets in Berlin. These are considerations a Nigerian investor may review before plunging into this adventure.
The tour was part of the seven-day Taz Panter Foundation Workshop for Nigerian journalists in Berlin, an initiative of German National Newspaper, Die Tageszeitung popularly referred to as Taz.