3rd December 2016
There’s a tradition in London wherein Londoners spend December telling each other how great Winter Wonderland is and how you really must go. It is a huge funfair in Hyde Park that is Christmas-themed and rammed full of people. I really couldn’t see the attraction.
Now, when it comes to Christmas markets, the Germans have the upperhand (though Sibiu still tops my list). But when my German friend came to visit, her and her friends were dead set on visiting our English Winter Wonderland.
I would have taken them to a lovely wine bar near Embankment where we could have drunk champagne ’til the bottle(s) and the conversation ran dry. But no, no; one of the friends was of stronger will than I. She headed up a group (battalion, regiment, corps?) of UN soldiers based in the West Country and her will was law.
She was also kitsch and loved unicorns. So Winter Wonderland suited her down to a tee. The floor was plastic and sticky; the music was loud, disharmonious and repetitive; the prices were extortionate.
My only experience of Bavaria is visiting the friend of the UN commander. I knew her from Bristol but she lived in Munich for a while and I went to visit her there (a lifetime ago). Now Munich is – by most accounts – a bit posh and a bit unfriendly. But with my friend, I had a wonderful visit.
A few moments stand out: we went to see Minions 2 (on my recommendation – a recommendation based on having drunkenly watched the first film). Thankfully, I found that cinemas in Germany sold alcohol (as they now do in UK but didn’t at the time) and when we sat down, we found the screening full of wonderful, beered-up people in their mid-twenties.
Next, we wandered through a park (possibly the English Garden) with a fresh-water stream running through the middle. Coming off the mountains, the water was ice cold; but people surfed on an artificial wave and floated lazily in rubber rings from one end to the next.
We had a glorious Bavarian breakfast: of sausage, meats, cheese and bread.
And a final flourish: I found myself running through heavy rain, in the middle of what seemed to be an industrial complex, towards the only lit building. Inside, there was an artifical beach, complete with volleyball and BBQs. And comfortable deck chairs. And beer.
I thoroughly enjoyed my time in Munich.
We were far from Bavaria now.
Winter Wonderland blares out Christmas songs from all angles and at different tempos and volumes. You’re never without hearing three different tunes at once.
The people are drunken and obnoxious, playing arcade games and singing to the disonant music. Drinks are £6 a pint. Lights glare; the place is as artificial as Eden is natural.
We found our way to the Bavarian village where a giant, distorted Geppetto played with a bird and plastic chalets tried to look wooden. When “All I want for Christmas is You” played (for the umpteenth time that night), the whole park seemed to exude a toe-curling “youuuuuuu”.
It was wondeful to see my friend – who is demure charm and wit verkörpern – but I would have preferred my champagne. I will certainly be denounce our tradition with more force the next time they visit.