Michael Fraas was raised in Nuremberg and has happy childhood memories of the Christmas market there. He worked at the government’s ministry for economics and technology but came back to head his hometown’s economic department in 2011. Part of his brief is to keep that special sense of Christmas alive in Bavaria’s second-biggest city, where its world famous market attracts 2 million visitors each year. He told Handelsblatt about how Nuremberg’s market keeps early nights and cuts down the alcohol to keeps a Christmas feeling alive.
Handelsblatt: Mr. Fraas, the Christmas market attracts tourists from all of Europe. What’s so special about Nuremberg’s Christmas market?
Michael Fraas: We are a truly traditional Christmas market – without it being tacky, we don’t have pink stands or wildly blinking Christmas trees. We place great value on the feeling of Christmas, and that’s what our marketing is all about.
How do you create that Christmas mood?
A careful mix of handcrafts, gift items, food and other offerings. Our Christmas market isn’t a drinking and eating extravaganza, we only have a limited number of those stands. We’re aiming for a special combination and we haven’t forgotten what our brand is about. There’s no head banger music, either, that just makes people drink more.
“People already know our city as site of the Nuremberg trials after World War II. The Christmas market, in contrast, evokes childhood memories and positive emotions.”
So there aren’t any alcohol problems at the Christmas market?
We don’t have many mulled wine stands, so the market tends to be very orderly. We create a different kind of atmosphere by limiting things like that. The environment matters too – we can only partially influence how much people drink, but I can’t remember any alcohol excess in the past.
How much money does Nuremberg make from the Christmas market?
The market is hugely important economically for us. We estimate that visitors to the Christmas market – whether day tourists or overnight – bring in about €130 million, or $141 million. That’s about 8 percent of tourism revenues for the whole year in Nuremberg.
And much marketing is involved?
The Christmas market is a major brand for the city. People already know our city as site of the Nuremberg trials after World War II. The Christmas market, in contrast, evokes childhood memories and positive emotions. It’s famous worldwide and attracts visitors from all over.
Do people only think Christmas when they think about the city of Nuremberg?
No. The market is a real attraction as is our famous grilled Nürnberger Bratwurst. I can use it to get the word out about other aspects of Nuremberg —namely that it is a center for innovation in the modern economy. It’s like in Munich: Everyone knows Oktoberfest and the white veal sausages, but the city is also known for its high-tech scene.
Is there a specific target group?
“The Christ child invites you to the markets, and whoever comes, he will be welcome.” That is the prologue that the Christ child recites every year at the opening. In a survey two years ago, we found that many young people under 30 go to the market, and it is the strongest group. The perception that the market is mostly for older people and families is wrong. We are happy about that, because it means the market continues to have a future.
The Christmas market closes at 9 p.m. every night. Isn’t that a bit early, considering your young target group?
We have talked about that for some time. There are plenty of other considerations though: People won’t be buying straw stars or wooden figures at 11 p.m., for example, and then the market would only be about eating and drinking.
What do you mean?
Late at night, the mulled wine stands would be pretty full. We don’t want that, because the mix is what gives the market its special feeling. People also suggested that the market open a week earlier. We also won’t do that, because the Christmas market initially started during Advent. It also ends on Christmas Eve at 2 p.m. It’s a tradition, that’s when we stop selling Christmas tree ornaments.
But times are changing. Is the market keeping up?
We have been criticized as being too traditional, but we believe it’s the right approach. People value that we are simple – the visitor numbers show that. Naturally we want to adapt and attract young people, but while keeping our traditional values. It is important to keep developing the market, but that must be done gently. We want evolutionary change, not revolutionary.
Do you have a decisive advantage over the competition?
We do not see it as competition, but rather as a win-win situation. Some visitors first go to a smaller markets, and then visit us later – or the other way around.
Do you worry that other markets will copy you?
There are many Christmas markets in this area. Each should have their own selling point. It’s difficult to say our market is better than another, though so far, we’ve done well with our principles. The visitor numbers and surveys confirm that. It is difficult to copy us, because the old town and its citizens are part of the market. You can’t really copy the atmosphere in the old part of Nuremberg.
Will you export the Christmas market?
Other Christmas markets are run like ours, but that’s not a problem. We want to profit from one another and keep expressing our marketing message.
Terms like “modern” sound abstract.
Nuremberg is part of a changing economy, which we’re helping to shape. The city used to be a classic manufacturing location with a few big players. Today, we are a high-tech site with many mid-sized businesses.
Leonidas Exuzidis writes for Handelslatt’s companies and markets section. To contact the author: email@example.com