The market organisers have turned the 18th-century stuccoed high street in the once royal Prussian city of Potsdam into what they call "a light and fairy-tale fantasy land". Hundreds of imported fir trees line its length and 10,000 fairy lights sway in the breeze on their branches.

The smell of hot cinnamon and alcohol fills the air as stall holders, some dressed in Father Christmas outfits, ply customers with plastic cups brimming with Glhwein.

Vendors sell smoked meats, gingerbread biscuits, wooden toys and sugar-coated loaves of famous Dresdner Stollen Christmas cake.

But this year, instead of inducing waves of undiluted Christmas cheer, Potsdam's Yuletide market has provoked outrage and calls for a boycott. Protesters claim the market organisers and city government have colluded in putting commercial profit above the spirit of Christmas.


Their crime, the protesters argue, was to open the market 10 days earlier than the traditional Christmas market starting date, which is on or after the first day of Advent.

Leading the objectors was the former regional state prime minister, Manfred Stolpe, a Social Democrat politician who served as a Protestant Church official in former communist East Germany. "Not even the regime in the former communist East went this far," he said. "I hope there are plenty of people in Potsdam who will boycott the Christmas market."

The Catholic and Protestant Churches complained that the market was set up before Germany's Remembrance Sunday, which occurred last week, and therefore showed no respected for those killed in two world wars. "Christmas markets should be held during Advent," said the head of the regional Protestant Church.

The city government's excuse was that it had simply acceded to the wishes of Potsdam's Christmas market stall holders who wanted to use the chance to trade on more days. "We were simply taking our cue from other cities like Hamburg and Heidelberg, which have also opened before Advent," said Mayor Jann Jakobs. In Germany, the home of the Christmas market, about 2500 markets are held each year, bringing in between €3 billion ($4.7 billion) and €5 billion.

- Independent