Der SpiegelDer Spiegel

Noel and Glühwein: Germany's Christmas Markets Generate Billions in Revenues

By Laura Himmelreich

10 Dec 2009 · 6 min read

Gerd Tönnesch spends 11 hours a day holding a racoon in his hand. He gets paid €1.30 ($1.90) an hour for his job at a local Christmas market. He lets the racoon crawl up his arm and snap at the hand of an 11-month-old baby. The baby laughs and grandma joins in on the fun, buying the hand puppet for €25. But even if Tännesch spent the whole day selling puppets, there's no way he could afford a furry toy of his own. "I would have to work until I was dead," he says.

Tönnesch is 65 years old, and though he does receive a pension, at €570 a month it isn't enough for he and his wife to get by on. To make ends meet, he is working for a plush toy company. He earns €400 a month manning the stall at a Christmas market, despite a long day that begins at 10 a.m. and doesn't end until 9 p.m. and a seven-day working week. His wife visits his stand almost daily and helps out with the work. Though Tönnesch is being exploited, he claims to not see it as such. "It's wonderful to hear children laugh" he says, smiling. "We love this work." Tönnesch has asked that his real name not be used in this story in order to prevent possible repercussions by his employer.

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