BerlinFabiola's alarm clock goes off at 5am. The 56-year-old hair stylist from Spandau hops on a train from western Berlin to the east side. There's a shuttle bus waiting in the Allee der Kosmonauten.

The blue bus with a Polish licence plate takes people to the Polenmarkt, a market on the other side of the Polish border in Hohenwutzen, for just €10. The first bus leaves at 9am and today Fabiola is joined by seven other shoppers.

Although shopping has been limited in Germany since 16 December, the market in Hohenwutzen advertises that none of its stores are closed. The bus scoots off to the Polish town of Osinów Dolny three times a day so that Berliners can shop abroad close to home.

"I can't get my chips with ketchup in Berlin, so I wanted to go here again before Christmas," says Fabiola. Her blonde hair and Mickey Mouse shopping bag are eye-catchers and she also wants to stock up on bread, cakes and cigarettes. She's asked that her last name be withheld.

Photo: Sabine Gudath
 Fabiola and her Polenmarkt booty. 

Whether it's geese, various types of cabbage or fresh fruit, the selection of food at the marketplace is huge in Hohenwutzen. The market is also known for tobacco products and spirits at reasonable prices. Other stalls offer children's toys, scarves, belts, pants, garden gnomes and car accessories.

The shopkeepers at the Polish market want to survive the pandemic too. Ulla, 57, waits for customers with her assortment of tobacco products. Not much is happening around noon.

Christmas music spills out of a store called the Zigaretten-Zentrum – the Cigarette Centre. It also sells fireworks but the owner doesn't think he'll be able to unload them all this year. Besides the shuttle bus, only about one car an hour with a Berlin licence plate arrives, he says.

Light 'em if you got 'em

Fireworks sales are banned in Germany but Reinhard Bautsch, 75, and daughter Ria, 45, want to make some noise on New Year's Eve anyway. The two have taken a four-and-a-half-hour trip from near Hamburg to Hohenwutzen.

"I've kept to all the rules so far, but I won't let anyone ban me from fireworks," the elder Bautsch says.

"It has nothing to do with corona anymore. You can still have a little fireworks display in private," his daughter says. The Bautsches will also make an exception at Christmas and get together with a little more than five people.

Helga, 84, Bernd, 79, and Ute, 65, from Berlin are also only willing to divulge their first names as they stroll along a shopping street dubbed Kudamm at the Polenmarkt. They're just window shopping with no set list of things to buy.

I want to look good.

Marlies Kühn

"We were curious to see if there were any restrictions," Bernd says. "If we would've had to go into quarantine after the visit, we wouldn't have gone. We already want to celebrate Christmas in a small group."

According to the corona regulations, Berliners don't have to take any special precautions after returning from the market.

Helga takes the opportunity to get her hair cut: "I like the hairdresser here better than in Berlin. You can tell them what you want, and it's also much cheaper."

Haircuts in Hohenwutzen start at €4. Marlies Kühn, 70, came over from Bernau and also wants a new coif.

Photo: Sabine Gudath
Helga, Bernd and Ute from Berlin just wanted to have a look. 

"I actually had an appointment with my regular hairdresser on Friday, but everything is closed. At Christmas, I want to look good," she says. She's not afraid of catching anything while she's at it. "I believe you'll survive all that."

Even the shuttle bus has been suffering in the pandemic. David, the driver, doesn't want to hazard a guess about the near future.

"Since the beginning of the corona crisis, there are considerably fewer passengers," he says and puts his hope on the coming year.

But Poland is about to have its own lockdown, starting 28 December.

At least until then, David will still shuttle Berliners to the Polenmarkt in Hohenwutzen for €10.


Adapted from the original German about the market in Hohenwutzen by Andrew Bulkeley