Oktoberfest London, hosted by Erdinger Weißbräu, will be returning to London this month (27 September-28 October) at the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, bringing a traditional Bavarian beer hall and fun fair to the UK.
To celebrate the upcoming event, we at CAMRA were invited on a whirlwind 24-hour trip to Munich and Erding to visit the Erdinger brewery and attend Herbstfest. What young beer festival enthusiast was going to pass that opportunity up? Certainly not this one, especially after an exciting summer whetting my appetite at the Great British Beer Festival.
2am start aside, it was a brilliant day in Germany. The September Bavarian weather was warm and sunny, meaning when our hosts announced we would take an open-top bus tour of the city, my first thought wasn’t: “Oh God, why did I leave my anorak in St Albans?” It was lovely to see some of Munich, and hard to miss how pervasive beer culture really is there – not only were the outside seating areas of cafes and restaurants dotted with plenty of pints, the tour guide pointed out several beautiful beer gardens, some absolutely massive (if my local pub garden could seat 7,000 like some Munich ones, the days of standing near tables awkwardly eyeing up people who might be leaving soon would not be missed), as well as sites of former breweries and some still active.
Following our tour was a traditional German lunch in Erding, at the former site of the Erdinger Brewery, as well as my first pint or two. Maybe three. After lunch, we visited the Erdinger Weißbräu Brewery’s newer, bigger site for a tour – which, I must confess, was my first time visiting a brewery, and was a really fun experience! Having only heard or read about how beer is created, it was exciting to see the knowledge put into action and put an image to all the terms I have learnt in my time at CAMRA (“What on earth is a ‘mash tun’?” I once wondered, peering into the pages of BEER magazine – no more!). Erdinger has been brewing exclusively in Erding since 1886, and it was fascinating to see how this brewery produces their beers and learn plenty about the process. Being a raging romantic, however, my favourite thing to discover was the sense of community amongst the brewery’s employees, and love for their job – one staff member told me that the average employment was around 17 years! Along a wall in the bottling area of the brewery, they have a ‘Wall of Fame’ of employees, divided into the decades they had spent at the brewery, which I thought was a wonderful touch. This dedication encompasses those beyond the brewery walls too – the beer, and the Herbstfest the brewery puts on, is much-beloved by the locals of Erding, with some telling me that besides professional marketing for the festival, word-of-mouth has brought them plenty of footfall and notoriety on its ownsome.
I must be honest with you, despite being green in several beer-related areas, I am no stranger to a German-style beer festival and beer hall, having seen the insides of a few across Germany and Austria during a year abroad in Salzburg, and the Herbstfest encompassed everything I loved about these festivals. It was colourful, loud, exciting and so different to events I have attended in other parts of the world. The Herbstfest was genuinely huge – not only was the beer hall large enough for plenty of tables, seating, and a stage for performers, it was also packed from the moment we arrived early in the evening. If you hadn’t arrived early, or hadn’t been able to book a table, you would have been hard pressed to get one! The tent was noisy, both when the live performers were on, and when they were off – music continued to be played on the loudspeakers, and the din of thousands of people eating, drinking and making merry is a force to be reckoned with – especially when they started hopping up on the benches to dance!
Waiters dressed in traditional lederhosen and dirndls came around the tables taking orders for food and beers – all drink was supplied by Erdinger Weißbräu (of course), and the food was traditional German fare, such as currywurst and chips, although other members of our party took advantage of the vegetarian options (if memory serves correctly, there were only one or two vegetarian choices, which may be a consideration if you have any dietary requirements before visiting such a festival.) Beyond the tent, a good chunk of the surrounding area was taken up by a funfair, complete with all your fair favourites: game stalls, delicious smelling food stalls, roller coasters and rides, and a ferris wheel – all the things you want after a Maß or three of beer. There were a great mix of people in attendance – men and women, younger and older, and even children (enjoying the funfair and rides outside, not within the tent as far as I saw!)
Herbstfest was clearly a festival deeply embedded in the local culture; it has been celebrated by locals for 78 years now – how wonderful it must be to have memories like that, to hear grandparents telling stories of the same festivals their grandchildren are attending now. They had buses designated to carry punters to the festival and away, which I thought was a good (and wise!) touch, and which highlighted what a popular calendar staple it is. The enthusiasm and delight I witnessed from locals, brewery employees, and we Brits attending for our first, second or third German beer festival, was absolutely brilliant. If Oktoberfest London can capture that same magic this month, I can guarantee it’s going to be a great night.
Last year, Oktoberfest London has over 30,000 visitors. Every day, live entertainment from famous Oktoberfest bands flown in from Munich will be the major attraction in the main beer hall, followed by modern pop acts and DJs that will run through the evening. The site at the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park will have a fun fair and outdoor beer garden with genuine wooden Alpine huts, transported from Germany for the month long event, as well as food stalls selling traditional Bavarian cuisine.
Tickets start from £5 for general admission to the funfair and beer garden, and then: £15-£17 entry to the beer tent, £20-£32 entry for reserved seating, £187.50 for a special VIP area, including complimentary food and drink all evening in a special elevated area.
The main marquee as well as the fun fair in the beer garden will be open every Thursday to Sunday from the 27 September-28 October.
Tent opening hours: Thursday, Friday and Saturday 5pm to 11pm / Sunday 12am to 9pm. Beer garden opening hours: Thursday 5pm, Friday 4pm, Saturday 12am / Sunday 12am to 9pm
For further information and ticket bookings visit www.ERDINGER-oktoberfest.co.uk
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