‘TIS THE SEASON

Mulled wine, homemade cookies & cakes, Christmas carols, yuletide decorations & festive cheer reward the patient masses at the German Christmas Charity Bazaar.

  • WHEN:
    This Saturday, November 26 from 11am – 5:00pm
  • WHERE:
    German Embassy
    No. 17 Dongzhimenwai Dajie
  • DONT FORGET: 
    Your passport or a valid ID to present in the entrance

On the last Saturday of November, a long line of patient Beijingers will huddle on Dongzhimenwai, braving waits of up to an hour in the blistering cold for a taste of an authentic European Christmas bazaar. This fundraising event has been held at the German Embassy every year for the past decade or so, initiated with generous assistance from the former ambassador and his wife. Heralding the start of the yuletide season for homesick laowai and curious Chinese alike, the bazaar has drawn annual crowds of around 4,000 in recent years. This impressive turnout is generated by word-of-mouth alone; not one jiao is spent on advertising.

“It’s a big event, everybody knows,” says Henny Dirks-Blatt, a native of Essen who has been involved in or- ganizing the bazaar since she arrived in Beijing four years ago. “One week before, there is a big poster at the German Embassy, but that’s all. And some newspapers

[cover it] also, but only those who have asked us, we don’t ask them. Because everybody says, ‘Don’t say anything! There are so many waiting to come in!’” For security reasons, only 1,500 people are allowed into the embassy at one time, where they are treated to everything from hot apple cider, gingerbread houses, German currywurst, and even festive trumpet-playing.

The organization of the bazaar is a year-long affair that includes finding sponsorship, collecting second-hand goods, making handicrafts, flying in seasonal goodies from Germany and monitoring charity projects. The exhaustive effort is undertaken by a core group of 10 to 30 German-speaking women from Germany, Austria, and Switzerland as well as Chinese wives of German men. On the day of the event, around 500 people pitch in to help one way or another, baking cakes, manning stalls, singing in the choir, putting up decorations or dressing up as Santa Claus to entertain the kids.

“This Bazaar is really fantastic because all the big companies from Germany are involved. The German curry sausage is sold by VW. The Christmas wine is made by Siemens. The noodles are coming from Mercedes Benz.” This is not a hands-off affair whereby corporations simply donate money. “The employees are working [at the stalls],” says Dirks-Blatt of the fes- tive spirit at the heart of the fair.

“That’s why we love it. It’s the first time in Beijing that we have the feeling that Christmas is coming. Okay, you can see Christmas trees and so on here, but the feeling, like in Germany, is another one. When you are in Germany, all the houses are decorated and the streets are decorated. There are also a lot of charity bazaars in Germany, so the things we do in Germany, we do in China. The special thing is the German companies do it with us.”

Of course, the logistics of orchestrating a Christmas bazaar in China — no matter how German it appears — are quite different from doing it back home. One example is the 250 adventsk- ranz (advent wreaths) which the women hand-make and sell for RMB 25-40. The candles are sent from a well-known company in Germany, but sourcing and maintaining the greenery is more prob- lematic in the dry climate of northern China. “Last year we couldn’t get the greenery so we asked at the flower mar- ket next to Kempinski Hotel,” Dirks-Blatt explains. “But this year we have done a lot for our connections with the Forestry Department and they told us we will get it.” For a small group of volunteers fundraising for charity, cultivating guanxi is no different than the ritual would be for their corporate sponsors. “You have to invite them to a meal, it’s the special way of doing things here.” Having secured the all-important greenery, the next challenge is keeping it fresh. “Here it’s different because it’s so dry [compared to Germany]. You make the wreath and after two days, the needles are falling off. So we made a lot of decisions about how to keep it fresh. It’s in water the whole time. Therefore we can only put all the decorations on it two days before the bazaar.”

Last year the bazaar raised over RMB 400,000 for seven charities, all based in Beijing so that the supported projects can be directly monitored for transparency throughout the year. “One week after the Bazaar, we invite our charity projects to come to the German Embassy and we have a nice day where we give them the money,” explains Dirks-Blatt. “But before, they have to tell us what they will do with the money, and we are looking during the year to see that they do what they say.” Every month, they visit one project to check on its progress and to bring additional funds.

They support the same charities every year, although one organization was removed from their list a few years ago “because they couldn’t tell us what they had done with the money.” It’s clear when Dirks-Blatt talks about the charities in great detail and with such compassion, that these women’s real motivation is seeing firsthand how their hard work goes to helping people in need. “We have really good connections to the charities. They are nice people and they are really working very hard. You can see they really do their work by heart. And for us, that’s more inspiration.”

—The German Christmas Charity Bazaar takes place this year at the German Embassy on November 26 from 11am- 5pm. You must present your passport to enter. It is located at 17 Dongzhimenwai Dajie.

Article by Ella Wong at Thats Mags