REVIEW: Joel Cooper visits Birmingham's Frankfurt Christmas Market
LOVE Christmas. There, I said it.
Call me a stickler for tradition but there's nothing quite like the excitement which is ushered in each yuletide to help us come to terms with the increasingly dark days and traditionally rubbish weather.
It gives us all an excuse to go shopping for nice things (even if they aren't for us), allows us the–opportunity to triple our daily calorie intake without feeling guilty and offers the only plausible reason for drinking either eggnog or mulled cider.
So when the opportunity arose to visit Birmingham's world famous Frankfurt Christmas Market on its opening weekend, I strapped on my metaphorical lederhosen, slapped my figurative thigh and headed up the M5 quicker than you can say Frohe Weihnachten.
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Our base for the weekend was an uber-trendy apartment in Birmingham's iconic Rotunda building.
The 18th floor apartment – part of the Staying Cool complex – boasts retro Sixties furniture, a fully equipped modern kitchen, iPod dock, free wi-fi, a juicer complete with a stash of ripe oranges and the most stunning view of Birmingham I have ever seen.
Looking out over the Bullring shopping centre, train station and the elegant 12th century St Martin's Church, especially after dark, made the apartment's flat screen television thoroughly redundant (even with a full Sky Sports subscription).
What's more, the Rotunda is superbly located bang in the city centre with New Street and the famous Christmas market less than 20ft from our door – perfect for dropping off those heavy shopping bags.
After a peaceful night's sleep and a hearty breakfast, it was time to hit the shops.
If you can't find what you're looking for in Birmingham at Christmas time, you're doing something wrong.
Every major outlet you can think of has a branch here and most are huge. Whether its fashion, food, gadgets, homeware, perfume, jewellery or anything else you can think of, Birmingham has it in abundance.
After working up an appetite at the Bullring and indoor market, we opted for a traditional German lunch consisting of giant salty pretzels filled with cheese and ham followed by indulgently sweet Berliner doughnuts. Santa himself would struggle to find a more satisfying snack.
After a brief rest at the apartment – and even more gawping at the stunning panoramic view – we headed to Brindley Place for a romantic walk by the canal.
The chilly winter air and biting wind had little effect on our glove-wrapped hands and woolly hatted heads as we strolled aimlessly around the city's beautiful network of waterways, all the while the sound of Christmas music floating gently over the dusky sky.
You'll notice I haven't mentioned the Christmas market yet, and there's a good reason for this. We deliberately decided not to visit the market until night time when the lights went on – and boy were we in for a treat.
More than 180 stalls housed in traditional wooden huts filled the gaping centre of New Street like a twinkling neon galaxy.
The smell of sizzling bratwurst, pickled gherkins, frothy beer and spicy glühwein wafted through the air like a festive symphony for the nostrils.
As well as all manner of food and drink, many stalls boasted arts and crafts of the finest calibre – everything from wooden toys, paintings and handmade Christmas decorations to intricate jewellery, flowers, sweets and scented candles.
One of the larger stalls even boasted its very own Santa impersonator on the roof who was belting out Frank Sinatra's My Way with uncanny enthusiasm.
The market really is a feast for all the senses, not least the taste buds. This time we went for a foot-long wiener schnitzel in a bun with fried onions, washed down with a mug of mulled cider.
My head had barely touched the pillow before I was asleep that night, which just goes to show you how much hard work shopping can be.
Although the weekend had sapped most of my energy – and despite the boot full of presents significantly thinning out my wallet – the trip had certainly given me an intravenous dose of festive cheer and placed a broad smile upon my face, and it was worth every penny.
Staying Cool's mini apartment at the Rotunda starts at £99 per night. For more information visit www.stayingcool.com
The Birmingham Frankfurt Christmas market runs until December 22. For more information visit www.christmasin birmingham.com