Time for mer­ri­ment

Un­able to make it to Ok­to­ber­fest per­son­ally, our colum­nist tries to find out more about the world’s largest cel­e­bra­tion of beer.

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - FASHION - MICHAEL CHEANG cschuin@thes­tar.com.my Michael Cheang is still kick­ing him­self for not be­ing at the Ok­to­ber­fest this year, and will drown his sor­rows with a one-litre stein of beer.

Un­able to make it to Ok­to­ber­fest per­son­ally, our colum­nist tries to find out more about the world’s largest cel­e­bra­tion of beer.

B EER, lots and lots of beer in gi­ant beer steins, served by wait­resses dressed in tra­di­tional Bavar­ian dirndls to six mil­lion peo­ple who come from all over the world to down said beer in sev­eral large tents erected in an open field. It could only be Ok­to­ber­fest.

While Malaysians are fa­mil­iar with the term “Ok­to­ber­fest”, many think it is just an oc­ca­sion to drink a lot of beer. But how much do we re­ally know about the fes­ti­val it­self?

First of all, it’s not a Ger­man tra­di­tion. It’s a Bavar­ian fes­ti­val, and not all Ger­mans go to Ok­to­ber­fest.

The real Ok­to­ber­fest in Mu­nich is not ac­tu­ally held in Oc­to­ber. Sure, it ends on the first week­end of Oc­to­ber, but the fes­ti­val ac­tu­ally starts in the mid­dle of Septem­ber, and con­tin­ues un­til the last Sun­day of Oc­to­ber. This wasn’t al­ways the case, though.

The first ever Ok­to­ber­fest was ac­tu­ally held on Oct 12, 1810, af­ter Bavaria’s Crown Prince Lud­wig I mar­ried Princess Therese of Sax­eHild­burghusen. To com­mem­o­rate the oc­ca­sion, the prince or­gan­ised a great horse race com­plete with a pub­lic party which grew so pop­u­lar that he de­cided to throw an­other one the fol­low­ing year.

These days, the Ok­to­ber­fest (or as the lo­cals call it, “Wiesn”) is still held at the There­sien­wiese (an open meadow named af­ter Princess Therese), but it has be­come more than just a sim­ple wed­ding cel­e­bra­tion. Usu­ally run­ning for about 16 days up to the first week­end of Oc­to­ber, at least six mil­lion litres of beer are con­sumed by more than six mil­lion fes­ti­val-go­ers, mak­ing it ar­guably the largest beer-re­lated fes­ti­val in the en­tire world.

The most im­por­tant part of the whole thing, how­ever, is not the his­tory, the peo­ple or even (gasp!) the beer. It is Gemütlichkeit, a Bavar­ian word for which there is no English trans­la­tion.

“Gemütlichkeit means the spe­cial cosy at­mos­phere that only Ok­to­ber­fest has,” said Eakart Ko­erner, a Ger­man ex­pa­tri­ate who had been to the Ok­to­ber­fest in Mu­nich seven times be­fore mov­ing to Malaysia. “I can’t de­scribe the at­mos­phere at the Ok­to­ber­fest – it’s so unique! Be­ing with so many peo­ple in­side the tents, with all the wooden benches, the mu­sic, and all the tra­di­tions and rit­u­als of Ok­to­ber­fest, it’s a re­ally crazy ex­pe­ri­ence!”

Ac­cord­ing to him, dif­fer­ent tents have dif­fer­ent at­mos­pheres, dif­fer­ent mu­sic, dif­fer­ent crowds, and of course, dif­fer­ent beers. For in­stance, the pop­u­lar and im­mense Hof­bräuFestzelt tent run by the pop­u­lar Hof­bräuhaus brew­ery is usu­ally filled with tourists, while his per­sonal favourite, the Schot­ten­hamel tent, is smaller and cosier. (The Schot­ten­hamel is also ar­guably the most im­por­tant tent in the Ok­to­ber­fest, as it is where the first mug of Ok­to­ber­fest beer is tapped by the Mayor of Mu­nich.)

Beer! Beer! Beer!

But enough about the at­mos­phere. What about the beer?

First of all, no beers brewed out­side of Mu­nich are al­lowed at the Ok­to­ber­fest. How­ever, with six large beer brew­eries in Mu­nich, there is no short­age of va­ri­ety at the Ok­to­ber­fest, that’s for sure.

There’s the ever pop­u­lar Paulaner (Ger­many’s most pop­u­lar wheat beer), the fa­mous Hof­bräu brew­ery (pop­u­lar amongst tourists), Löwen­bräu, Au­gustiner Bräu, Hacker-Pschorr and Spaten-Franziskan­erBräu. Each of these brew­eries has their own tents serv­ing their own beer (some of which are brewed specif­i­cally for Ok­to­ber­fest and usu­ally about 2% ABV stronger than the brew­eries’ nor­mal beers).

This year, how­ever, the six ma­jor brew­eries joined forces to cre­ate a spe­cial Ju­bilee Brew, a his­tor­i­cal and un­prece­dented col­lab­o­ra­tion to mark the 200th year an­niver­sary of the fes­ti­val.

With so many peo­ple at the beer tents or­der­ing beer, one imag­ines that ac­tu­ally get­ting a beer must be a night­mare. Well, not at Ok­to­ber­fest. “There is no other fes­ti­val in the world where you can or­der a beer and get it within five min­utes! You can’t even get that in a pub!” said Ko­erner.

Cen­tral to this ex­cel­lent beer dis­tri­bu­tion process are the fa­mous dirndl-clad wait­resses who scurry around busily while hold­ing up to 10 or more steins of beer in their hands (and bear in mind, these are all mas­sively heavy one-litre steins, not the puny ones we get in pubs around here).

“The sys­tem works so well be­cause the wait­resses are paid by how many beers they sell. So the more they can carry and the faster they can de­liver them, the more money they make!” said Ko­erner. “A good wait­ress can earn up to 10,000 eu­ros at an Ok­to­ber­fest if she’s good at her job!”


Ul­ti­mately, the biggest thrill of Ok­to­ber­fest is not just the beer – it’s the en­tire pack­age of tents full of peo­ple sit­ting on wooden benches, sway­ing, sing­ing, swill­ing beer, and just hav­ing fun.

“This unique at­mos­phere would be re­ally hard to repli­cate any­where else in the world,” Ko­erner said. “You can try to do it in Malaysia, but what would you call it? 1Ok­to­ber­fest?”

Well, it may not be ex­actly the same as the one in Mu­nich, but that isn’t stop­ping Guin­ness An­chor Ber­had from try­ing.

“We want to try and recre­ate the spirit of what goes on in Mu­nich, here in Malaysia. What is the spirit of Ok­to­ber­fest? It’s about en­joy­ing with your mates, en­joy­ing mu­sic and en­joy­ing beer, in a so­cially re­spon­si­ble way, of course,” said Mark Jen­ner, mar­ket­ing di­rec­tor of GAB. “Fun­da­men­tally, Ok­to­ber­fest is a cel­e­bra­tion of beers. Beers are at the cen­tre of it.”

He added that it was also a good oc­ca­sion to use all the beers in the com­pany’s port­fo­lio, which in­clude Guin­ness, Tiger, Heineken, An­chor, Kilkenny, Strong­bow and Paulaner.

The ad­di­tion of Paulaner, an ac­tual Mu­nich­brewed Bavar­ian wheat beer, to GAB’s port­fo­lio fur­ther adds au­then­tic­ity to its Ok­to­ber­fest cel­e­bra­tions.

GAB has been or­gan­is­ing Ok­to­ber­fest-re­lated events on a grand scale for three years now. This year, how­ever, it is go­ing re­ally big, with five big street par­ties – at Souled Out Sri Har­ta­mas and Pe­nang Road last week, Sid’s Pubs (to­day), Laun­dry Bar (to­mor­row) and fi­nally go­ing over to Kota Kinabalu for the first time ever next Satur­day. (For more in­for­ma­tion about GAB’s Ok­to­ber­fest pro­mo­tions, visit www.tiger­beer.com.my.)

“We’ve got games, con­tests, and a Ger­man oom­pah band play­ing through­out the par­ties!” said Jen­ner. “At se­lected out­lets, for RM50, you can also get a whole litre of beer in a spe­cial com­mem­o­ra­tive Ok­to­ber­fest onelitre beer stein which you get to keep af­ter you fin­ish the beer.”

To Jen­ner, it doesn’t re­ally mat­ter that Malaysians are a long way from be­ing Bavar­ian. To him, it’s more than just a rea­son to sell more beer – it’s also about the spirit of cel­e­bra­tion and the fact that this is a gen­uinely fun event to go to.

“Ul­ti­mately, the Ok­to­ber­fest is a real fes­ti­val with a 200-year-old tra­di­tion. I think if we had just made some­thing up then it would be hard to con­vince peo­ple to come cel­e­brate with us!” he said with a laugh.

Cheers! Decked out in tra­di­tional Bavar­ian clothes, these Ok­to­ber­fest rev­ellers make toasts all around.

A wait­ress car­ry­ing a load of one-litre beer mugs to thirsty cus­tomers at the start of the Ok­to­ber­fest beer fes­ti­val in Mu­nich last month. Ok­to­ber­fest marks its 200th an­niver­sary this year. (Pic inset) Eakart Ko­erner, a Ger­man ex­pa­tri­ate, rev­els in Ok­to­ber­fest and had been to the fes­ti­val in Mu­nich seven times be­fore com­ing to Malaysia.

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