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Ha Noi raises a cold glass to Oktoberfest

Update: October, 20/2013 - 17:43
Cheers! Beer enthusiasts gather in Ha Noi last year to celebrate Oktoberfest. This year's event takes place at Cung Xuan Event Centre, 1 Vo Thi Sau Street, on October 24-25.--VNS file photo.

Businessman Nguyen Van Thanh is excited to attend Oktoberfest - not in Munich , but in Ha Noi.

The festival, which will take place at Cung Xuan Event Centre on October 24-25, aims to recreate the atmosphere of a massive German beer hall. Visitors can taste grilled Bratwurst and sauerkraut along with imported German brews, with authentic Bavarian music from Munich band Gaudiblosn in the background.

"We're excited to enjoy beer and traditional dishes from Germany," said Thanh, who has attended the event four years in a row. "The two-day fest is a great chance for us to meet and exchange views with friends and foreign business partners."

Hans-Jorg Brunner, German Deputy Head of Mission in Viet Nam, says this year more than 200 countries over the world organise the Oktoberfest.

His daughter Nathalie Brunner, a Munich resident who attended the festival in Germany for five consecutive years, described the lively atmosphere of the beer tents, in which participants not only drink but also enjoy roasted chicken ("halbes Hendl"), sing and dance and meet new people from Munich and from all over the world.

In Germany, she explained, you often go to Oktoberfest on the invitation of the company you work in. The company provides you with vouchers for half a roasted chicken and two mugs of beer, which should be about two litres of beer - if the mugs are completely filled, which is almost never the case. Alternatively, if you're lucky enough to have friends who have managed to reserve a table, you might sit with them.

Tents open at 11am and close at 11pm, with the exception of the "wine tent" and the Käfer tent in which German food specialities are served, which are open until at least 1am.

Many attendees go to an "After Wiesn Party" after the tents close, but Brunner confessed that she had never done this.

"After two mugs of beer, I am really thankful to go home," she said. "Anyway, when I go to Oktoberfest during the week, I have to bear in mind that I must get up at 6am the next day."

On heavy-traffic days, bartenders pour up to 70,000 litres of beer, so technology and software are critical for pumping beer securely and quickly from the tanks to the taps and into waiting mugs.

Since last year, the Hacker Tent has been supplied by a centralised pipeline system controlled by Siemens software. Both sales and throughput can be monitored at all times via web browser, tablet PC or smartphone. In earlier times, two or three tanks were positioned at five different locations; today, four large tanks containing 28,000 litres of beer apiece are set up at a central location. Besides saving space, this arrangement also facilitates the delivery and distribution of beer within the tent.

All smiles: Nathalie Brunner and her friends at the Oktoberfest in Germany last week.--Photo courtesy of Nathalie Brunner.

The history

Oktoberfest began as a wedding celebration for Crown Prince Ludwig (who became King Ludwig I) and Princess Therese of Saxony-Hildburghausen in 1810. The citizens of Munich were invited to attend the festivities on the fields in front of the city gates. They were named Theresienwiese ("Theresa's fields") in honour of the Crown Princess ever since, although the locals have since abbreviated the name simply to the "Wies'n".

Horse races in the presence of the Royal Family marked the close of the event. The decision to repeat the horse races the subsequent year gave rise to the Oktoberfest tradition.

In the first few decades, the choice of amusements was sparse. The first carousel and two swings were set up in 1818. Visitors were able to quench their thirst at small beer stands, which grew rapidly in number. In 1896, the beer stands were replaced by the first beer tents and halls set up by enterprising landlords with the backing of the breweries.

The remainder of the festival site was taken up by a fun-fair. The range of carousels on offer was already increasing rapidly in the 1870s as the fairground trade continued to grow and develop in Germany.

On the occasion of the 200th anniversary of Oktoberfest in 2010, a historical Oktoberfest was held at the south end of the Theresienwiese. It attracted so many visitors that since then it has taken place there every year (except for the years when the Bavarian Central Agricultural Show takes place).

"I went there that year for the first time. It's much smaller than the commercial Oktoberfest and the fairground rides are also much older," Brunner said. "The museum tent is really interesting. There you can inform yourself about the history of Oktoberfest, about beer and breweries and how the Oktoberfest evolved during the past 200 years."

As this suggests, Oktoberfest isn't only about beer.

Nguyen Thuy Ngoc, 22, a Vietnamese student in Germany, attended a recent Oktoberfest in Munich and said her favourite part was the Wave Flyer, a classic carnival ride.

"Today Oktoberfest is the largest festival in the world, as well as an increasingly attended event in Ha Noi.

Elmar Dutt, chairman of the German Business Association (GBA), says Oktoberfest becomes popular among both Vietnamese and the foreign community.

"This year's Oktoberfest promises to be even bigger and more exciting than the last," Dutt says. He expects more than 3,000 people to attend.

Philip Jones, general director of the Movenpick Hotel Ha Noi said his hotel will provide the fest with many delicious and tasty dishes including pork knuckles, souerkraut and red cabbage.

The event is sponsored by the German Embassy in Viet Nam, the German Busineness Association (GBA), Movenpick Ha Noi Hotel and KBT, the executive distributor of German Beer Bitburger in the country.. — VNS

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