MARC EVANS heads back to his home city of Birmingham for a weekend of indulgence, Christmas, and a lot of chocolate

You can tell when something has become really successful by measuring the backlash against it.

Every winter for around a decade now, Birmingham has been transformed into an approximation of its twin city Frankfurt, with the creation of an ever-expanding German market. As a native of the Second City, I have witnessed this phenomenon grow and grow...from relatively humble beginnings to turn into the festive behemoth it is today. It has expanded from its original home near City Hall and now snakes all the way to the Bull Ring, with Germanic food and drink – savoury and sweet, hot and cold – plus crafts, gifts, and Christmas wares a-plenty.

My family and I made our annual pilgrimage to this celebration of sausages, gluhwein and pilsner on the Saturday after Black Friday, having been following a Twitter row branding the Christmas Market ‘an annual tat-fest’ and ‘an embarrassment to Brum’. Have people finally had enough of it?

The answer was a resounding ‘no’ if the crowds we witnessed were anything to go by – it was absolutely heaving, and uncomfortably so. Walking up New Street past stall after stall was an effort, especially with two children, trying to negotiate our way past swathes of humanity. Instead of being able to casually browse the food stalls to see what we fancied, we ended up eating at the first bratwurst shack we came to that gave us (literally) some breathing space. And then they charged us 50p extra for onions.

The food is hearty, and ideal for the cold weather – if heavy on the pork and potatoes – but not particularly cheap, and the queues are something else.

An alternative Christmas market has been set up by the cathedral, and it has gained its own notoriety for having a giant pork scratchings stall. You don’t get much more Brummy than that...and this coming from a city that now boasts a Lego statue of Slade’s Noddy Holder in its central station.

After depositing the kids with my parents, it was time for my wife and I to head off to our base for the weekend – the four-star Park Regis hotel on Broad Street, Birmingham’s nightlife capital. No partying for us, however; we were there to sample the hotel’s Wine & Dine package rather than explore Birmingham’s fabled Golden Mile.

The 253-room Park Regis is very much corporate rather than boutique (shower, no bath), as you would probably expect in a working city flushed with conference centres. But it’s doing its best to attract mini-breakers with its good value deal (room, two-course meal with wine, plus breakfast), attentive service and high-quality food at its 1565 Restaurant. My carpaccio of beef, followed by monkfish and spiced lentils, was superb, as was my wife’s scallops and steak.

Breakfast was in the buffet style and catered for every taste, whether you fancied crayfish, fruit, or a full English (or all three). My wife found time for a relaxing hot stone aromatherapy massage at the Shakina Urban Spa and then it was back into the real world to pick up the children for a visit to another Birmingham institution with a considerably longer history – Cadbury World.

Again, the packed car parks were testament to the popularity of this chocolate factory with a twist, which had also got into the festive spirit with a Christmas panto and a Santa show.

I’d like to think my kids took in the history and were inspired by tales of how the Cadbury family – devout Quakers – looked after their workforce in a way that most employees can only marvel at today. But I fear they were mainly in it for the chocolate.

The Santa show was fun, while the 4D Chocolate Adventure was quite something to behold – a virtual roller-coaster ride alongside Cadbury characters without ever leaving your seat.

As for the tour, it was interesting, enlightening, and fun. There are activities along the way, the chance to indulge in nostalgia with some old adverts, and plenty of chances to tuck into samples of the famous glass-and-a-half dairy milk, and even create your own combinations.

Sure, Birmingham is like a homecoming for me. But if you can stand the crowds, you’re in for a warm welcome too.


Park Regis, 160 Broad Street, Birmingham B15 1DT. 0121 369 5555. The ‘Wine & Dine’ package is available from £129

Cadbury World, Linden Road, Birmingham B30 1JR. 0121 393 6004. A family ticket costs £51. The panto runs weekends until December 30

Birmingham Frankfurt Christmas Market runs until December 23