Christkindl in the clink: German prison's Christmas market

One prison in eastern Germany has invited visitors to get their fix of festive cheer in an environment otherwise known for anything but. DW's Kate Brady reports from the Saxon town of Zeithain.

Bratwurst, stollen, Christmas trees decked with lights and baubles, the dulcet German tones of "O Christmas Tree:" You've been to one German Christmas market, you think you've been to them all. But you haven't seen Zeithain prison.

Instead of the customary backdrop of historic architecture and quaint town squares, at one market in the eastern state of Saxony barbed wire and CCTV video surveillance are an unconventional addition to the usual festive trimmings.

Deutschland - Gefängnis in Zeithain

Zeithain prison: Not your usual location for a German Christmas market

For the fourth year now, Zeithain prison opened its Christmas market to the public for one day on Friday, with about 200 people expected to visit throughout the first day of Advent.

By opening time, the first Christmas revelers were queuing to warm up with a steaming bowl of goulash in the below-freezing temperatures.

"We want the Christmas market to reach out to locals and inform them about our work, particularly with the addiction therapy facility," prison spokesman Benno Kretzschmer told DW.

Deutschland - Gefängnis in Zeithain: Honig am Weihnachtsmarkt am Zeithain Knast

About 200 locals were expected at the Christmas market at Zeithain prison

Since 2014, the prison has provided inmates with an on-site addiction-therapy facility — the first of its kind in Germany. Many of those using the facility suffer from crystal meth addiction. According to the German Justice Ministry, about 40 percent of all prisoners in Saxony have an addiction problem with drugs or alcohol.

Read more: Fewer Germans smoke, but ecstasy and crystal meth use rises

Among them is 36-year-old Berlin-born Jeffry, who was imprisoned for bodily harm.

"The Christmas market is important for creating unity in the therapy group," he said, warming himself by the fire in the center of the stalls.

"As a group we can really achieve something and we can show the public that the money that’s invested in the facility isn't being thrown away, but is really being put to good use," Jeffry said.

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Deutschland - Gefängnis in Zeithain: Gefangener, Jeffry

For Jeffry, who has struggled with crystal meth addiction, the market is a positive outlet

"It's important for me to show people that we're working to overcome our addictions," he added.

One of the many activities included in the addiction therapy is arts and crafts, with the end results available for purchase at the unconventional market.

Instead of the wooden incense smokers and rotating Christmas pyramids that usually line the shelves of German Christmas markets, at Zeithain prison, candleholders, decorative Santas made out of tree stumps and porcelain snowmen are just some of the items for sale — all of which are made by inmates. 

Festive handiwork

For Zeithain local Ute Kühn, the products are a special draw. "You can't find these at any other Christmas market," she said, adding that the event is also positive for the relationship between the prison and the surrounding community.

Deutschland - Gefängnis in Zeithain: Plätzchen am Weihnachtsmarkt am Zeithain Knast

Ute Kühn and her husband decide which decoration to purchase

"Eventually, the prisoners here need to be reintegrated into everyday life," Kühn said. "I'd hope that they can find the right path again when they're released. So I think it's important that inmates can have this contact."

Money from the decorations goes to the German government's coffers.  At a separate stand, however, inmates collect donations for Kahuza, a children's charity against child poverty and child abuse in Germany.

For the sweet-toothed, jars of honey from the two on-site beehives are available for purchase. But anyone looking for something stronger will have to go without the customary mulled wine. For security reasons, the alcoholic glühwein is replaced with mulled punch. In that case, we’ll take two.


Frankfurt Christmas Market, Birmingham, England

The largest German-inspired Christmas market outside of Germany and Austria takes place in the UK's second-largest city. From mid-November to Christmas Eve, visitors can browse over 120 booths offering arts and crafts, or treat themselves to roasted almonds and "glühwein," or mulled wine. While the market is on, downtown Birmingham sparkles with festive holiday decorations as well.


German Christmas Market, Sapporo, Japan

At the Christmas market in Sapporo, a city of two million people in northern Japan, visitors can purchase Christmas ornaments and annual commemorative mugs. The traditional German "Weihnachtsmarkt" was established in 2002 to celebrate the 30th anniversary of Sapporo's city partnership with Munich.


Christkindlmarket Chicago, US

The Windy City has one of the oldest German holiday markets in the US. More than 20 years ago, Chicago was inspired by the Bavarian city of Nuremberg and decided to host a Christkindlmarket as well. More than one million people come each year to see the giant Christmas tree at Daley Plaza. For the opening ceremony, the Nuremberg Christkindl is flown in from Germany.


Vancouver Christmas Market, Canada

This Christmas market, organizers say, "brings [the] festive Old World tradition" of holiday markets to Vancouver on the west coast of Canada. In addition to "glühwein," there's also German beer on tap. Young visitors can participate in a scavenger hunt along the twinkling pathways of [the] European-inspired Christmas village, meet the market mascots Holly and Jolly, or buy tree ornaments.


German Christmas Market, Delhi, India

For over 10 years, the Indo-German Chamber of Commerce has organized a German Christmas market in Delhi. Its "fusion of business and entertainment" provides entrepreneurs with "an excellent opportunity to ... market their products to tens of thousands of visitors," the chamber states. Delhi is not the only Indian city that has a Christmas market — the German Embassy in Kolkata held one in 2015.


Southbank Centre Christmas Market, London, England

The UK capital has many Christmas markets. One takes place on the south bank of the river Thames. True to German tradition, arts and crafts are sold from little wooden huts and visitors can enjoy German bratwurst. The British newspaper "The Guardian" wrote Britain is relatively new to the tradition of Christmas markets, but "their popularity … shows there is certainly an appetite" for them.


Christmas markets in Shanghai, China

The number of holiday markets in the Chinese metropolis grows from year to year. Many of them are German in character, featuring decorated huts, Advent treats and "glühwein" booths. Unlike in Germany, however, visitors in Shanghai usually have to pay an entrance fee to enjoy the festive feeling.


Christkindelmarkt, Leeds, England

These little smoke men are available at the Leeds Christmas market. When you're finished shopping and need to warm up, there's the "Kuh Stall," or cow barn, where hot drinks and food are on offer. A highlight for children is "Santa's Breakfast," which takes place on weekends. Guests are welcomed by elves, and Father Christmas himself will stop by the tables with a gift for each kid.


Union Square Holiday Market, New York City, US

For more than 25 years, New Yorkers have been able to enjoy that special holiday feeling with an international twist. The city that never sleeps has several Christmas markets across town, with some offering German food specialties like roasted almonds and gingerbread. The only thing you won't find is real "glühwein," since drinking alcohol in public is prohibited almost everywhere in the US.


Edinburgh Christmas Market, Scotland

In Scotland's capital you can find traditional German Christmas markets right next to those with local specialties. After you first get some presents, brats and "glühwein," you can then finish the outing with Scottish whiskey to warm yourself up. Cheers to that, and Merry Christmas!