Life as a Manchester Christmas Market trader - what do they do for the rest of the year?

by Super User
Anja Manke, from Germany, was among the first traders who travelled to Manchester for the very first Christmas market - and she's been back every year since After setting up in the city centre for well over a decade, the Manchester Christmas Markets are synonymous with mugs of gluhwein, sizzling bratwurst, and hot chocolates. But it hasn't always been this way. Back when the first 16 stalls set up in St Ann's Square in 1999, some bewildered Mancunians didn't know what to make of them. "First of all nobody really knew about Christmas markets or our wines, people were thinking we were selling soup, tea or coffee," recalls market trader Anja Manke. "We gave out small glasses for people to try the gluhwein because at the start they had literally no idea what we were doing." "But now everybody knows - the Manchester Christmas Markets – everybody knows what this means and I think it's attracting more and more people every year."Anja, who is from Bremen in Germany, was among the first traders who travelled the hundreds of miles to Manchester for the very first Christmas market. And she's been back every year since, selling her selection of gluhwein, beers, German sausages and sweets. With hundreds of stalls across 10 sites, the sprawling festive event now includes a fun fair and an ice rink in Cathedral Gardens. The markets are almost unrecognisable from those early days. But for Anja, some things have stayed the same, such as her regular customers. "We even have some customers who have been coming from the start who bring us gifts. "When they first come they had small kids and now they return and their children are old enough to drink gluhwein on their own." "We always talk with them and they're always coming back. "We do have good friends with people in Manchester we are even travelling on holiday with them so it's not only business, its also like living there a bit." "I like my job a lot, even though sometimes it's awful if you're outside and it's raining all day and there are no customers and it's totally boring, but it's a nice job. You get to know nice people."She runs the business with her ex-husband Andreas, the man responsible for introducing her to market trading in the first place. When they first met, his parents ran an ice cream stall which toured markets and fairs in the Northern towns and cities of Germany. And when Anja and Andreas married, all eyes were on them to take on the family business. "His parents said one day: 'You either have to take it or we will have to sell it to somebody else, we are getting too old to do it on our own. We need somebody to help us.' "Somehow the question was to study further on or to go into markets. Now I'm divorced and still doing it," Anja says. At 24-years-old, Anja decided to take on the responsibility, and although the couple have now separated and divorced, their business and working relations are still going strong. When they're not in St Ann's Square, the pair are trading in Northern German cities like Golsar and Oldenburg selling freshly made ice cream. It's very different from selling gluhwein on the chilly streets of Manchester, but Anja says that in some ways she prefers trading in the UK."The market in Manchester is way bigger, so it's much more of a challenge which I really like. "People are very polite in England, I like that. It's a part of the culture, if you run into somebody everybody is always saying 'excuse me', 'sorry darling', and in Germany the people they just walk on." There were sacrifices that the couple made, namely leaving behind their baby daughter during the Christmas period. "She is 19 now, so she always had to stay at the grandparent's house. I never got to bake cookies with her, or decorate the Christmas tree – this is the only thing I miss. "She is just moved out to study, so she's also used to it, but this would have been nice, to prepare something for Christmas with your child, but this wasn't possible." While in Manchester, Anja and her team of 25 stay in city centre apartments. During her time in Manchester, from November 2, Anja works seven days a week from 9am to 9pm. When she returns on December 22, it's time for a well-earned break over Christmas and New Year, but often that's taken up by last minute Christmas shopping, she jokes. "I recognise I'm getting older right now, I'm just happy to be home, and it's quiet and you don't have to see any people any more!" The market's popularity continues to grow, and trade seems to be flourishing for Anja and the other traders. But the prices of the Manchester Christmas Markets are always a point of contention among the public. Speaking about her business and profits, Anja says: "We are doing quite well, but we also have a lot of costs. "We have to pay the duty for the alcohol, then we have to live somewhere so we pay like a mountain of money for apartments which is expensive, then we have to pay money to be there to the city council. "So it's going well, but it's not like you just take everything home with you, you have to pay a lot of invoices."Last year the Brexit discussions started, and some of our customers, we thought that maybe they would be like, 'oh the Germans are back we don't want them any more,' but we didn't have any problems like this. "We do import everything, until now it's no problem, but I don't think that the world will change so much that you're not allowed to import some bratwurst. "The only thing is that the pound lost a bit of its power, the currency went down. That's the only impact that's recognised so far. " And would this affect the prices at Anja's market stall? "No - the only thing is that the Manchester markets are selling mugs, the price for the mugs went up a bit [from £2 to £2.50]. "The prices for the mugs didn't change for 10 years, but the people who are buying the mugs they can return it so that should have little affect on the customer. Otherwise its going to stay the same." In the future, visitors can expect the same gluhwein and bratwurst, but in a few years time it might not be Anja running the stall. "I think my daughter hopefully with think about taking over the business as well, after she finishes her studies – that is what we're hoping. "You never know, with the new generation. But we really like it. Manchester, it's our second home."

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