FRANKFURT, Germany: A surge in new COVID-19 cases left an uneasy feeling hanging over Frankfurt's Christmas market, as well as at other markets around Europe.
In Frankfurt, masked customers must pass through a one-way entrance to a fenced-off wine hut, stopping at the hand sanitizer station, while security officers check their vaccination certificates.
Despite these inconveniences, stall owners in Frankfurt and other European cities are relieved to be open for their first Christmas markets in two years, amidst new restrictions in Germany, Austria and other countries caused by record numbers of COVID-19 infections.
However, others are not so lucky, as many holiday-related events were canceled in Germany and Austria, meaning tourists will not spend their money at restaurants, hotels and other businesses.
Craftsman Jens Knauer said his hoped the Frankfurt market "stays open as long as possible,' adding, "If I can stay open for three weeks, I can make it through the year," as quoted by the Associated Press.
After other Christmas markets were abruptly shut down in Germany's Bavaria region, business owners were uncertain about holiday sales.
On Monday, Austria's markets closed as a 10-day lockdown began, with many stall owners hoping the shutdown is not extended so they can reopen.
The Czech government, on Thursday, closed Christmas markets to slow a record surge in COVID-19 cases.
Also, there were fewer crowds this year at Frankfurt's market, and stalls are spread out over a wider area.
Heiner Roie, who runs a mulled wine hut, predicted he will take in half the revenue he did in 2019, adding that a shutdown would cause "immense financial damage" to himself and others.
The market "has a good concept because what we need is space, room, to keep some distance from each other. In contrast to a bricks-and-mortar restaurant, they have their building and their walls, but we can adjust ourselves to the circumstances," said Bettina Roie, who sells Swiss raclette, a popular melted cheese dish, as reported by the Associated Press.
It was important to reopen "so that we can bring the people, even during the pandemic, a little joy," she added.
Europe's economic recovery has been unsettled by the latest COVID-19 surge, leading some economists to hedge their expectations for growth in the final months of the year.
Holger Schmieding, chief economist at Berenberg Bank in London, has cut his forecast for growth in the last three months of the year in the Eurozone countries from 0.7 percent to 0.5 percent.
Meanwhile, in European countries where the pandemic is not hitting as hard, life is returning closer to normal. The traditional Christmas market in Madrid's Plaza Mayor will fully open Friday, at the size it was before the pandemic, but masks and social distancing will remain mandatory, organizers stressed.
In Budapest, Hungary, Christmas markets have been fenced off and visitors must show proof of vaccination before entering.
In Vienna, merchants said last year's closures and new restrictions have had disastrous consequences, but markets were packed last weekend, as people made the most of them before the start of the new lockdown.
Laura Brechmann who sold illuminated stars at Spittelberg market before the lockdown, said, "The main sales for the whole year are made at the Christmas markets, this pause is a huge financial loss," she told the Associated Press.
In Austria's skiing region of Salzkammergut, those in the tourism industry hope the national lockdown will not be extended beyond 13th December.
"Overall, I do think that if things open up again before Christmas, we can save the winter season," said Christian Schirlbauer, head of the region's tourism industry, according to the Associated Press.