Edinburgh Oktoberfest: Here for the beer

A beer tent in full swing in Munich: Picture: AFP
A beer tent in full swing in Munich: Picture: AFP
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The world’s biggest fair will be pitching its tent – and pouring thousands of pints of beer – in the Capital for the first time next week.

Oktoberfest, first held in the city of Munich, has been an annual celebration of German culture for more than 200 years, combining beer, food and music in one big Bavarian bonanza.

Festival director Carsten Raun says he has high hopes its first date with the Capital could blossom into something more long term.

“We’ve been doing an event down in London for about three years now and we noticed that lots of Scots were coming along, so we thought ‘why make them come to us when we can go to them?’” he says. “The Edinburgh event has been in the works for about a year-and-a-half now, and we’re hoping that it will become a yearly thing. We know the Scots love to party!”

Events modelled around the original Munich festival – which attracts around seven million people a year – now take place in the likes of Stockholm, Gothenburg, Copenhagen and Amsterdam. This year sees two Scottish cities joining the party, with an event in Glasgow taking place after the inaugural Edinburgh party, meaning Scots won’t have to go very far to get a taste of the specially brewed official Oktoberfest beer.

“There is only one type of beer for sale at Oktoberfest and that is the special German beer made only for us,” says Carsten. “We’ll be bringing it over in a truck which carries 20,000 litres and it will be pumped from there directly so it really couldn’t be fresher.”

The first Oktoberfest was a celebration of the wedding of Crown Prince Ludwig, later to become King Ludwig I, and Princess Therese of Saxony-Hildburghausen, which took place on October 12, 1810. Everyone in Munich was invited to gather in fields at the city gates to join the celebrations. The fields were renamed Theresienwiese, which means Therese’s Fields, in honour of the new Princess. The title was abbreviated to “Wiesn” over the years, which is also how locals refer to the festival now.

When it returned in 1811 it was billed as an agricultural show, and also held horse races to keep revellers entertained. Over the years fairground attractions and beer tents were added, bringing the festival closer to the event we see today.

“But it’s not just all about beer!” says Carsten. “Oktoberfest is a celebration of all German culture. For example, you can try our wonderful traditional food.”

Dishes normally served at Oktoberfest include Hendl (chicken), Schweinebraten (roast pork), Schweinshaxe (grilled ham hock), Steckerlfisch (grilled fish on a stick), Würstl (sausages); along with Brezeln (pretzel), Knödel (potato or bread dumplings), Käsespätzle (cheese noodles), Reiberdatschi (potato pancakes), Sauerkraut (red cabbage), plus Bavarian delicacies such as Obatzda (a spiced cheese butter spread) and Weisswurst (a white sausage).

And if you really want to get into the swing of things, there’s also the option of getting gussied up in some traditional German clothing. Both lederhosen and dirndl dresses will be available to buy or rent.

“When you come into one of our tents you are entering a little piece of Germany, so why not look the part?” says Carsten. “Perhaps some Scots will already have their own to wear when they come along, but if not, it’s only £29 to rent them for the day. When we first did Oktoberfest in Denmark five years ago only one in five people wore traditional German clothes. Last year, it was half.”

But while dressing up may come reasonably cheap, Carsten admits that the price of the beer may cause some raised eyebrows, but insists it’s all worthwhile to keep spirits just high enough.

“Our beer comes in either a half pint, or a one-and-a-half pint glass. A half pint is £3, while the larger volume is £8.50. The cost is partly because we have to bring it all the way from Munich, but also because Oktoberfest is supposed to be fun and family friendly. We want people to drink and have a good time, but we don’t want them to overdo it. That’s when the fun stops, and people can become nasty. So yes, it may cost more for a beer, but maybe this means some people won’t buy that ‘one last beer’ which tips them over that edge.”

In Germany, there is a special name for those who overindulge in booze at the festival – Bierleichen, which means “beer corpse”.

While the Friday and Saturday nights of Edinburgh’s Oktoberfest are already sold out, Carsten insists that those coming a bit late to the party should not despair.

“It is free to come along on Wednesday night and then Thursday and Sunday only cost £5. In my opinion Sunday is the best day as that’s when we have the big family lunch. It’s got a lovely atmosphere. People will find themselves making new friends whatever time they visit Oktoberfest because we set out the tents with big long tables and long benches and everyone sits, drinks and sings together.

“We are also going to have live music and a dance floor. People of all ages come along and you will see teenagers dancing next to people of retirement age, which is lovely to see.”

Providing the music will be southern German band Albfetza, who will be mixing up traditional German and Tyrolean songs with Scottish sounds.

“I guarantee you will be standing on the benches and singing before you leave. You don’t have to know German to enjoy our songs, but Albfetza have been learning some popular songs from Scotland too, like the one that goes ‘I would walk 500 miles’. Everyone loves that song,” says Carsten.

• Edinburgh Oktoberfest, October 9- 13 in Princes Street Gardens. Visit www.edinburgh-oktoberfest.co.uk for details.