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.

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