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Christkindlmarket Returns To Daley Plaza After Pandemic Absence, But Getting It Back Started Was No Sleigh Ride

CHICAGO (CBS) -- For the first time in two years, the air in Daley Plaza is filled with the signature smells of fresh schnitzel and cocoa – as the Christkindlmarket returns.

As CBS 2's Marissa Parra reported, it was hard work – and a Christmas miracle – that brought back the feast for the senses.

"We are just really excited to be back especially after last year, especially for such a big anniversary," said Kate Bleeker, director with Christkindlmarket. "It's like being reunited with family!"

After a pandemic pause in 2020, Christkindlmarket has returned just in time to ring in 25 years. But this was no sleigh ride.

"From the travel restrictions, to the freight issues and delays in shipping, the labor shortage, to getting our vendors here from Europe – we try to stay as optimistic as possible," Bleeker said. "There were definitely times where it seemed a little daunting."

The comeback story that both organizers and vendors waited two years to tell was still being written a very short time ago.

"For months and months, we were thinking: 'What's going on? Will we be able to go, or not?'" said German vendor Frieder Frotscher.

Frotscher has been part of the market since the beginning with his business, Traditional German Food LLC. He was one of the first vendors back in 1996, back when it was first held at Pioneer Court next to Tribune Tower.

"I lived in East Germany, I grew up behind the wall and I never thought it's going to happen where the wall comes down," Frotscher said. "Then about six years after the wall came down, I was asked if I would be interested to sell food in U.S., I never thought this was possible."

From bratwurst to sweets to beer steins, Frotscher sells and shares his culture. It is not only how he survives, but it is also his dream.

"So when the borders were closed and we couldn't have travel, oh man, that was – it almost broke our heart," Frotscher said.

Christkindlmarket went virtual for 2020 in hopes of helping their small business owners, but some vendors like Frotscher couldn't partake.

"Half my things were here and half were in Germany. It just wouldn't work," he said. "I had to use money I had saved through retirement to get through it."

This year, as the clouds started to part, Frotscher still had to wait months to get his visa – and almost as long to get his items shipped overseas.

"When we made the first step into the U.S. again, we said, 'Wow, we are there!'" he said.

He noticed the same thing we did. Most of the market is exactly how we last saw it. Bleeker showed Parra the Grand Timber Haus – that heated indoor structure where you can sit at a Stammitsch and enjoy food and beer or Sternthaler Glühwein.

Bleeker noted that the Grand Timber Haus is "pretty iconic."

"It's been around for about 15 years," she said.

But this time, you will need a reservation to get a table inside the Grand Timber Haus, since Christkindlmarket is trying to limit crowds. To make a reservation in the heated Timber Haus, follow this link.

"Guests who are out in the market who get food and don't have a reservation can still have the warming tent where they can eat as well," said Bleeker.

There will also be more QR codes than pamphlets, and masks will be required inside all the indoor spaces.

But all the new measures they are taking are to keep bringing us together.

"It's been nonstop planning to get here," Bleeker said. "I jokingly say we spend all of the year working towards this day, but we did it!"

And Frostcher is living what he hopes to be his own story's happy ending.

"Now we are so happy we're able to come back," he said. "Let's keep fingers crossed this will be a good market again."

Once again, don't forget to wear your face mask if you choose to go inside to warm up.

The market will also stay open later on Fridays and Saturdays. The hours are 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Sunday through Thursday, and 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday.

The concept of the Christkindlmarket in Chicago dates back to 1995, when the German American Chamber of Commerce in the Midwest was looking for new ways to promote bilateral trade between the U.S. and Germany. The organization started up a partnership with city officials in Nuremberg, and then-GACC Midwest Manager of Commercial Services Ray Lotter invited companies from Germany to join in that first Christkindlmarket in 1996.

At the invitation of then-Mayor Richard M. Daley, Christkindlmarket moved to the plaza that bears his father's name in 1997 – and has been there ever since.

'There is also a Christkindlmarket event at Gallagher Way next to Wrigley Field – which, like the Daley Plaza event, officially opens Friday. The Milwaukee Christkindlmarket will not be held this year.

Similar German Christmas markets are held all around the country.

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