The Frankfurt German Christmas market has defied the economic downturn after attracting a record number of visitors to Birmingham city centre.

As the stall holders packed up their festive wares for the journey home to Birmingham’s twin city Frankfurt, official figures show that 2.8 million people visited the largest German market outside Germany and Austria.

That is 600,000 more than last year and in sharp contrast to many high streets and shopping centres which have struggled as consumers tighten their belts.

City leader Mike Whitby hailed the event a huge success and pledged to make the introduction of a summer market a priority for 2009.

The Conservative council leader was in fine form during the now traditional handover of unsold food and goods from German stall holders to the Salvation Army to hand out to homeless and vulnerable people throughout the city this Christmas and New Year.

He chatted with stall holders in fluent German, stopped passers by to exchange festive greetings and encouraged visitors to sample the German cuisine on offer.

Coun Whitby (Harborne) said: “The Market has established itself as a firm favourite amongst Birmingham’s calendar of events.

“We have had a record year in spite of the troubled economic climate. With some 2.8 million visitors this year, many from outside the city, the market, provides an excellent opportunity to showcase its wider retail offering.”

Coun Whitby added that the German market, now it its eight year, would return again for Christmas 2009 and promised further

“I will now make it a priority, when I return to my desk after Christmas, to set up a summer market. We will look at a European or global market.

“We have links with Lyon and Milan and we have an India desk and a China desk forging links with these countries.

“We need to replicate what we have here - the atmosphere and the enthusiasm.”

The idea of a summer market was first pitched by retail guru Mary Portas, of BBC’s Mary Queen of Shops fame, when she was brought in by the council to consult on Birmingham’s retail offer in October.

He praised the generosity of the stallholders who handed over unsold food, including ham, waffles, sausages and pretzels, to the Salvation Army to distribute to homeless residents at the William Booth Hostel in Shadwell Street.

“Every year they are warmly welcomed to this city by shoppers and show their appreciation by offering some Christmas cheer to people in need,” he added.

The stallholders also collected loose change for the homeless and handed over sweets and chocolate for children in council care homes.

Salvation Army Centre manager Garry Murphy said: “The food will be appreciated this Christmas. But they do not just provide food, the donations help us support the homeless in many ways.”

Other items will be distributed through Salvation Army community projects in the city and the money will go towards the Change a Life project which helps homeless people towards a more settled lifestyle.

Stall holder Nadine Loewenthal added: “The hand over of our leftover produce is a way of showing our appreciation and give something back to a friendly city that never fails to make us feel welcome.”