At This X-Rated German Christmas Market, It's Nice to Be Naughty
Celebrate the holidays Hamburg-style with naked Santas, strip teases, pornokaraoke—and lots and lots of glühwein.
A naked Santa Claus is sitting down slinging beer and pouring liquor into glühwein, the mulled wine that’s basically the official libation of German Christmas markets. Nearby, two men—who have clearly visited naked Santa a few times already—are caroling for a group of 50 or so onlookers. They’re not crooning the holiday tunes you’d expect like “O Tannenbaum” or “Jingle Bells.” They’re performing something completely different: Pornokaraoke. The person orchestrating it all? A topless drag queen named Ella Mortadella wearing a Santa hat and little else.
This scene isn’t what you’d necessarily expect from a Christmas market in tradition-obsessed Germany. Then again, this isn’t your average holiday fair—it’s the annual XXXmas Market, Santa Pauli, which appropriately takes place in Hamburg’s Reeperbahn red-light district from mid-November up until the day before Christmas Eve.
Out are the fairytale-looking wooden stalls and angelic choir you’d find in Nuremberg or Dresden. Christmas trees here aren’t adorned in twinkling lights, but rather fluorescent phalluses. Instead of hand-carved nativity scenes, nutcrackers, or Räuchermannchen (“smoking manikin” incense burners), the stands here display a different kind of gift for the holiday season. You’ll find bondage-themed ornaments, body-piercing jewels, skull decor, hand-carved (splinter-free) wooden dildoes, and holiday-inspired sex toys. Think jingle balls instead of bells.
It’s a hedonistic take on the holiday season, and a far cry from anything you’d find at Heidelberg’s Weihnachtsmarkt or Cologne’s stunning Dom Markt. But what it lacks in sanctity, it makes up for in sin, because—at least in the St. Pauli neighborhood—you can’t have one without the other.
“The visitors don’t just get hot from the mulled wine,” said event organizer Jochen Bohnsack in an interview ahead of the first ever rendition in 2006. The goal was to create a Christmas market that fit the personality of the St. Pauli area in Hamburg.
“Here, even Santa Claus and the child of Christ can live out their sexuality,” added Hamburg’s cult drag queen Olivia Jones. And it doesn’t seem much has changed since its opening, beyond growing larger and larger each year.
Santa Pauli isn’t the only unique Christmas Market in the city, either. In previous years, there's been a doggie market, and there’s even an entire month-long Winter Pride Xmas Market in artsy St. Georg, complete with plenty of glühwein, DJs, and local LGBTQ+ organizations sharing their stories and collecting donations.
But here at the XXXmas market, the entrance sign reads: “Welcome to Hamburg’s Hottest Christmas Market.” Hot it is not—not from a climate perspective nor from a fleshy, Miami standpoint. You won’t find much bare skin among the crowds of giggling Germans wearing their thick jackets and pom-pom hats while cupping warm mulled wine. Aside from the compromising depictions of Santa that’d only embarrass Mrs. Claus and the elves, the atmosphere is, much like the other Christmas markets dotting Hamburg, entirely jolly.
Like any proper romp, the “Glühweinapotheke” bar is a perfect starting point to loosen any inhibitions. Resembling an 18th-century pharmacy, the faux apothecary lets visitors concoct their own mulled wine elixir from an assortment of high-quality reds and whites from the Pfalz region. Using beakers and test tubes, bartenders dressed in white lab coats blend the glühwein to your taste, drop by drop, whether that be a Dornfelder mixed with plumb or a Riesling accented with vanilla, anise, and, for good measure, a hit of rum.
Venture a little deeper to the “Stripzelt,” or strip tent, where every hour introduces a new personality. Here, you can surrender to holiday titillation as performers unleash a torrent of gyrations.
Looking for Santa? You’ll find his face emblazoned on countless sex toys. You’ll also spot candy-cane dildos, marzipan genitalia, and penis-shaped cookies for sale.
Still, not everything here is Freudian. Plenty of local artists and craftspeople showcase their creations. From hand-crafted wooden postcards to knitted hats, bread-baking kits, ornate lamps, and adorable stuffed animals, everything is present and accounted for. You’ll even find the requisite German Christmas-market treats like smoked salmon, roasted nuts, sausages, and decidedly un-erotic fried mushrooms.
The entire Santa Pauli vibe might feel ultra modern and progressive to outsiders, but Hamburg’s been randy and rambunctious like this for centuries.
The friskiness dates back to the 1600s, when sailors came here in search of entertainment after their months at sea. Up sprouted bars, clubs, cafes, theaters, bordellos, and other dens of sin. You could find burlesque shows, circus performances, classical music concerts, and operas.
By the 1960s, musicians and artists found refuge (and more) along the streets, which served as inspiration for The Beatles (who briefly lived here) and songs by The Police, Elvis Costello, Van Morrison, and Tom Waits.
Nowadays, most of the grit from yesteryear has been dusted off, but an edge remains. And everything that comes with red-light life—the prostitution, drugs, and random squabbles—still do exist, though it’s hardly bothersome to the crowd of family-friendly faces (all 18+, of course) lining up to join the enclosed Santa Pauli festivities.
Those “family-friendly faces,” though, quickly turn wide-eyed when we reach the evening’s ribald entertainment. Each night of the advent promises plenty for ogling.
At night’s end, you’re invited to enjoy some refractory period bliss on the Winter Deck. Here, you can sit beneath hanging Christmas trees, next to a bonfire, while you sip drinks titled “bordsteinschwalbe” (Hamburg slang for prostitute) or “nussknacker” (nutcracker).
It’s an unexpectedly gemütlich, or cozy, setting, considering the sea of sex surrounding, well, everything else.