Thank God it only happens once a year! A journey into the heart of #Oktoberfest. Windhoek, Namibia.
The smell of barley, hops and wheat permeated the night air as the evening’s festivities hit their crescendo. Steins being smashed together in appreciation washed down the dry saltiness of one too many pretzels. Biefrau holding six steins to an arm in a possible display of their prowess were being egged on by the revellers, whose behaviour was reminiscent to that of pre-school children during recess.
This could be a scene straight out of the Munich Oktoberfest and you would be forgiven for thinking so. And if you had told me I would be attending such an event in much the same vein, but in Africa, I would have fobbed you off as crazy. But after having being convinced by an old German Namibian friend of mine Ollie, to come up and go along for the ride I decided, “What the hell!” An Oktoberfest in Windhoek could equate to nothing more than a harmless excursion into the heart of Namibia, where I could get – for the most part – a hangover from drinking too much beer with a couple of locals on a dusty sports field somewhere out in the desert. I couldn’t have been more wrong.
Upon entering the grounds of Oktoberfest I was met by three of the biggest tents I had ever seen at a beer fest. The largest of the three the ‘Champions Tent’ – as it’s called by the locals – was where the main body of the festivities was taking place. Here you could see hundreds of people having a good time – drinking while dancing on tables – and where the main focus it seemed, was to see who could drink the most beer before it ran out. Or so it seemed. And was just the beginning.
Of the end my sobriety. As I soon found myself in salute to inebriation – my earlier assumption now blown out the water – and deciding now was time to join in and get on with the task at hand. But this would require a beer. Or two. Or three. So like a frontline storm trooper with the grit to match I muscled my way through the crowd – only to be misdirected by an echelon of dipsomaniacs who were hogging the bar – and in the subsequent tangle ended up under the food tent, which (by the way) had an equally well stocked bar. The result of my foray – into unfamiliar territory – rewarding me with a stein of beer in each hand.
My short-lived apprehension toward this unexplored part of the festival was now dissipating as my lips hit the edge of a glass stein and I tasted the cold, crisp sensation of the fest bier. All the while acknowledging my initial theory of waking up with a hangover on a dusty sports field somewhere out in the desert was only proving itself to be thus far an experience far from the truth.
And at the very least a no more truthful conclusion could’ve been made as my eyes came across a German couple tearing into an oversized bratwurst – the sauce being licked off each other’s chins – as they covered themselves in copious amounts of kartoffel puree (mashed potatoes), which looked delicious.
I soon found myself ravaging a bratwurst the sauce oozing everywhere and kartoffelpuree covering me. Popping the last bit of ‘brotchen’ (German roll) into my mouth, another kind of roll cut through the atmosphere. A drum roll. I followed the source and was stopped short in an open field between the main and food tents. And what I saw was not a dusty sports field but a fantastic mix of indomitable battlefield manoeuvres in the form of Oktoberfest games. All sorts of attractions were here, log sawing, nail in the wood and stein lifting beer fraulein sporting huge jugs (of beer) as the crowd pressed on with their chants of support. Of which the loudest was emanating from the people gathered around the log sawing game.
It was a riveting experience (to say the least) as a hulking mass of two heavy set men sawed their way through a mammoth log – the wood chips and sweat flying – as I proceeded to duck while blocking my eyes. This was a little technique I had observed from some of the supporters who stood real close to the action. It was in a nutshell, a lesson in artistry, tact and know-how. Something I might have overlooked if my preconceived notion of the Oktoberfest was true.
For example; with its games, bratwurst and festbier, Oktoberfest was just a famed dusty sports field somewhere out in the desert (complete with locals) but was supercharged with one key element: survivalism. This was made all too clear – as I made my way back to the main tent – where its traditional Bavarian roots culminated with stein smashing, line dancing and goodwill toward each other.
Even though the main entertainment, Die Kirchdorfer – donning the beards of rock maestros ZZ Top – moved the sound away from the usual brass oompah to an electrifying set of Euro pop it was still infused with these classic overtures. This continued until they couldn’t stand anymore and as a result the synthesised tunes of the cheap DJ club anthems that followed were still able to round off the evening in a feeling that only be described as ‘wunderbar.’
Aside from all shenanigans I had to face the facts, for one, the first thing I had noticed was that the field was anything but dusty. It was green, greener than most and it was huge. Two, it’s not actually in the desert but is in a region called the Khomas Hochlands, which is predominantly Karoo bushveld and even boasts naturally occurring springs. Three, yes there were many locals but there was also a lot of people from all over the world. Like Germany, Italy, the USA, Botswana and Angola to name a few had all come out to be a part of this festival. Fourth, and this is the only point that did ring true, the hangovers from drinking too much beer were a given; who would’ve known…so…
…In brief and on closer inspection it was more than that; Oktoberfest is an event where tradition, patriotism and good old values went hand in hand and out the window and not necessarily in that order. As in the words of Thomas – band manager of the oompah band Die Kirchdorfer- when asked why he loves to be a part of the Windhoek Oktoberfest he said, “It’s the perfect experience”. And I guess in a way he was right.
- The pre fest parade; kitted out with kegs being ferried from the brewery to the festival was completed with a bevy lovely beer fraulein as they made their way down Independence Avenue.
- A keg tapping ceremony to officiate the opening of the Oktoberfest.
- Two whole days and nights of performances by the Munich Oktoberfest band; Die Kirchdorfer.
- All forms of traditional German festival games and various other activities that I was too drunk to remember.
- The SKW venue is located right next to a recreational centre that boasts of all things laser tag and go kart racing.
- Joe’s Beerhouse, a staple in Namibian beer and food, offering up an unforgettable dining experience in an ever more exquisite setting.
- Fancy doing a bit of sightseeing? Then why not take in some of Windhoek’s most famous landmarks. Namely the Tintenpalast and the Christus Kirche. It’s a fascinating example of old World colonialism and also adds a bit of authenticity to the atmosphere of the Oktoberfest.
Oktoberfest’s around the world:
Held from the 20th September to the 5th October, this vibrant celebration of Beer is in its 181th year and is unquestionably the birthplace of Oktoberfest.
Co – organised by the German business association in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, Oktoberfest Vietnam is one of the biggest of its kind in Southeast Asia. It’s now in its 22nd year running and celebrates its introduction to the German culture with a festival that stretches over seven days.
Held in the city of Blumenau, Santa Catarina, Brazil from 3rd to the 20th October, and boasting its 30th edition, is considered to be one of the biggest Oktoberfest celebrations of its kind in South America. Created in 1984 after the Itajaí-Açu river went into flood, it was a means of recuperating the city’s economy and uplifting the inhabitant’s morale. It worked and now sees an attendance of over 700 000 a year, where the traditional German fare coupled with South American flare is celebrated in a most appealing way.
A special thanks goes out to Norbet Wurm, (Windhoek Oktoberfest), Carol Rechter (Joe’s Beerhouse), Thomas (Planet Oktoberfest and Die Kirchdorfer), SKW, all their sponsors, Ollie Reissner, Jason Meinert, Marietjie De Chavonnes Vrugt, the people of Namibia and the Reviglio family for putting up with my shenanigans while covering this story. Extra special thanks going out to anyone I might have forgotten to mention.
Our Oktoberfest adventure took place in Windhoek, Namibia on October 24th – 25th 2013.
By Slippery Joe Lyzard © (Writer for Nomadic Existence)
Photography: Nomadic Bug ©
Nomadic Existence 2015 ©
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