A heady aroma of gluhwein and bratwurst filled Birmingham's Victoria Square last night which could only mean one thing: the Germans are back in town.
Despite fears the traditional Teutonic market would be scrapped in favour of a more Dickensian fayre last year, hundreds of shoppers and workers piled into the Frankfurt Christmas Market.
A brass band played a festive selection of Slade, Beatles and Christmas carols as people tucked into sizzling bratwurst sausages, fried potatoes plus various German breads and sweets.
More than 80 stalls outside the Council House and along New Street offer everything from hand-crafted children's toys and jewellery to ornaments and clothing.
Launched as part of Birmingham's controversial Winterval '97 celebrations, the German market was brought back in 2001 and has remained a fixture in the city's festivities ever since. It is now the biggest German Christmas market outside Germany and Austria.
In August 2004 Councillor Nigel Dawkins (Con Stirchley), former city council cabinet member for leisure, sport and culture, claimed it was time for a change and suggested an event to showcase "the best of local British produce" should replace the Frankfurt Market.
However, his successor, Coun John Alden (Con Harborne), said it would be "a nonsense" to scrap the pre-Christmas attraction.
He said: "This market attracts people from all over the West Midlands to Birmingham, you only have to look around to see how popular it is.
"I know the Christmas lights were switched on last weekend but for me the build up to Christmas really starts when this market opens."
Without doubt the most popular stall is the Frankfurt Xmas Pub where mug after mug of potent gluhwein - mulled wine - is served to shivering customers to help them defrost.
One visitor in need of refreshment was Rachel Robson, of Bartley Green, who looks forward to this event every year.
She said: "This is really the start of Christmas for me, with all the food stalls, different smells, shopping and the wine - it certainly gets me in a festive mood. "I'm glad the council decided not to replace this with a different event, I'm not sure anything else would work as well."
Petra Ahrend comes over each year from Bramen in Germany with her family to run one of the sausage stands.
She said: "Birmingham is twinned with Frankfurt and we came for the market in 2001 and we've come back every year since. It's a great event, we don't actually have anything like this in Bramen.
"The food is definitely popular with people here, as is the gluhwein, but maybe that is due to the cold weather."