How to survive Winter Wonderland
When Dean Martin sang ‘Walking in a Winter Wonderland’ all those years ago, I’m 100% certain he did not have the annual Hyde Park festivities in mind; hundreds of overpriced Bratwurst stalls, stands selling tacky Christmas decorations for double the price you’d normally pay and cheap, fake snow turning to mush at your feet. I bet the only reason the Grinch hates Christmas is actually because his parents forced him to visit Winter Wonderland as a kid.
Okay, maybe I’ve overdramatising the situation a little bit but if you’ve had the *pleasure* of visiting London’s Hyde Park over the last couple of weeks, you will know exactly where I’m coming from.
From the moment you step out of Green Park/Marble Arch/Hyde Park station (yes, that’s right, this madness covers the course of THREE tube stations), you’re confronted by adults, glazy-eyed, wearing novelty Christmas hats and children, demanding their overtired parents buy them a hot dog. For £7. If I had ever asked my parents to buy me a £7 hot dog, I would have been given a three-hour lecture on the importance of being self-sufficient and budgeting.
But it seems some parents are more than happy to get their purses out as long as they get five minutes of peace. And luckily for them, Winter Wonderland does provide hours of peace – but you have to be willing to splash the cash and bankrupt yourself right before Christmas.
I’ve had no real interest in Christmas since I had to start using my own money to buy gifts and I don’t have children so, yes, it was a bit of a silly idea to traipse into the centre of London on a Monday evening, just for a bratwurst. All I can say now is thank god for friends and pre-bought alcohol.
Arriving at about 7:10pm, hoping we had missed the crowds, we were largely disappointed to see flocks of people milling around the entrance to Winter Wonderland. Is Hyde Park packed throughout the whole of December? 24 hours a day, seven days a week…does Winter Wonderland ever BREATHE?!
Luckily for us, we bought our booze with us and as soon as the first child ran into my legs, two minutes into the whole experience, I knew this was a good, and cheap, idea; whilst others paid £12 for a stein of German beer, I happily sipped my £1.50 Red Stripe from the sidelines.
For the first 20 minutes or so, Winter Wonderland is basically a glorified market on a Saturday morning that your parents have made you get out of bed for. Nobody is selling anything that will interest anyone, unless you’re a 65-year-old cat lady or an over-eater. Fairground rides are slotted in amongst the food stalls, almost encouraging parents to waste their money on sugared donuts for their children…donuts that will soon see reappear as their beloved Joshua comes hurtling from the sky at 60mph.
After wandering around for a good hour and realising every five stalls is a repeat of the last five stalls, we gave in to the amazing smells from which we couldn’t escape and headed for the nearest (and cheapest) Bratwurst stall. Now this is where Winter Wonderland got interesting…
Located in the middle of the consumerist Christmas tack, and not for the faint-hearted, stands the Bavarian Village; made entirely of wood, stumbling across this little beauty was similar to coming across Santa’s Grotto itself. With a stage and dance floor at the front of the ‘village’, surrounded by benches and kiosks selling authentic German/Bavarian food, this place saved my Winter Wonderland experience.
Surrounded by like-minded adults (basically, man-children who just wanted to get drunk) and with a bottle of Captain Morgan’s to finish, it would have been rude if I didn’t fully immerse myself into the festivities. So I took to the dance floor, accompanied by friends and armed with a dark rum hot chocolate, and let the wonders of winter take over.
Two hours, and one very intense dance routine that was similar to a boxercise class, later, I was dripping in sweat and drunk as a skunk. I lost count of how many steins were poured over me by mistake and I had a new found admiration for the entertainer, Joseph – a 70 year old man, wearing leather trousers. The best thing about Christmas is that you get to eat and drink too much and watch your elderly family members do embarrassing things and I’m pretty sure I experienced all of this at Winter Wonderland.
As we left the Bavarian village, crashing into the reality of Winter Wonderland – annoying children, drunk adults (not us, of course) and novelty Christmas hats – it felt rude not to enjoy the sugared donuts that so many stalls around us offered…
Until I saw the price. Six for £6.50?! No wonder so many people get drunk, it’s the easiest way to forget how much money you’re spending.
Suffice to say, I declined the donuts, instead choosing to have another dark rum hot chocolate and digested all I had learnt during my time at Winter Wonderland. Want to have a good time when you visit? Then follow my tips:
1. Pre-buy your drinks if you don’t want to be ripped off. I don’t care if a can of Jack Daniel’s and Coke isn’t as authentic as a pint of mulled cider, I just saved £5.
2. Don’t go with children. If you have children, leave them at home. It’ll be far too expensive otherwise.
3. If you choose not to follow tip 2, make sure you have enough cash on you to buy a small house.
4. Head to the Bavarian Village if it’s the last thing you do. Joseph, and his leather trousers, are there most afternoons/evenings.
5. Wear clothes you don’t mind getting ruined. It’s NOT a fashion show and you will leave smelling like German beer.
6. Girls, fake snow makes your hair frizz. Just leave it natural.
7. Bypass any stall at the beginning of the market. Everything is a lot cheaper the further you go around.
8. Be prepared to know every single lyric to every single Christmas song by the time you leave.
9. Get a good selection of alcoholic friends to go with you. It’ll make the experience much more enjoyable.
10. Last but not least, and my favourite tip: just stay at home. It’s not worth battling the cold, the crowds or the prices. Put some fake snow down in your garden and get drunk in the comfort of your own home.
Words by Victoria Gottschalk