Sonya has lived in Berlin, Germany, for most of her life. But it was only in 2011 that she first experienced her country’s world-famous beer festival, Oktoberfest.
Interestingly, her first taste of the centuries-old Bavarian tradition was not in Munich—where it was first held as part of the wedding festivities of then Crown Prince Ludwig and Princess Therese of Saxony-Hildburghausen—but in Manila, where the German Club Manila had been hosting the event for Germans and Filipinos for the past 76 years.
Sonya, who was wearing the traditional German dress, a dirndl, told us that she enjoyed her first Oktoberfest in Manila so much that she and her husband have not missed a single one ever since.
What did she like most about it? “The bands,” she said. “Every year they just get better.”
True enough, for this year, the organizers flew in the original Hofbräuhaus band from Munich, along with professional yodeler Lissie Lohner to entertain the sold-out crowd at Sofitel Philippine Plaza’s Harbor Garden Tent.
“Hofbräuhaus is the mother of all Bavarian beer breweries,” German Club Manila president Per-Andre Hoffmann said. And by having its band perform for this year’s Oktoberfest, he said it provided those who have yet to experience the Munich fest—and those who miss it—the most authentic experience.
Just how authentic? The band played the alphorn and cowbells, which were a delight to watch and listen to. And though we’ve seen a number of yodelers on YouTube, nothing beats a live performance, especially if it’s someone as good as Lissie. (By the way, she can gulp a pitcher of beer in 25 seconds.)
For almost eight hours, the band sang a host of German songs, which unfortunately we didn’t understand. Nonetheless, the tunes had catchy melodies.
Luckily, we knew one song that was the easiest to memorize, “Ein Prosit”; so we were able to join in the fun.
Event hosts Michael Schiele and Eiffelene Salvador also taught us how to sing and dance to “Fliegerlied,” a staple Oktoberfest song.
We gladly sang along with the band when it played the Beatles’ “Hey Jude” and The Proclaimers’ “I’m Gonna Be (500 Miles).” We also liked its version of Nena’s “99 Luftballons.”
16,000 liters of beer
For this year’s Oktoberfest, the organizers allotted 16,000 liters of San Miguel Pale Pilsen draft beer—4,000 liters more than last year’s—for the two-night fest.
We went on the second night; Sofitel general manager Adam Laker said that the crowd from the previous night consumed 5,500 liters of beer. It meant that each person on second night could drink at least five liters of beer.
And so, tower upon tower of beer passed our table, to drown the diet-busting Bavarian cuisine composed of grilled pork knuckles, parsley-filled roasted chicken, beef patties, roasted steamship (beef leg) and German sausages, among others.
Hoffmann, who was comfortable in his lederhosen, said a culinary chef from Bavaria was also flown in to oversee the food preparations for the festival, “to ensure that only 100-percent pure Bavarian food is served.”
To complete the Bavarian experience, we were also treated to a Schuhplattler (traditional folk dance) demonstration and, of course, a beer-drinking contest.
Manila’s Oktoberfest may pale in comparison to Munich’s in terms of size, but Hoffmann told us that a lot of those who were at Sofitel preferred the local version.
Steffen, whom we bumped into on the way back to our table, said that Manila’s Oktoberfest was “more personal since the crowd isn’t as big… You get the chance to meet almost everyone.”
In fact, some of the guests were able to mingle with the members of the German All-Stars football team—Guido Buchwald, Dieter Eilts, Fredi Bobic, Ansgar Brinkmann, Dieter Burdenski, Martin Driller, Joerg Heinrich, Olaf Marschall, Marco Reich, Michael Schulz, Lars Unger and Thomas von Heesen—who flew into the country recently for a friendly match against some former members of the Philippine national football team.
Many are not aware that Oktoberfest here is not all fun and booze; it is also held for a good cause. Proceeds from the event go to German Club Manila’s welfare committee, which conducts feeding programs, helps patients at the National Children’s Hospital, and sponsors educational programs, among others.
“The Oktoberfest is the cultural climax of the many activities that we do in the German Club,” Hoffmann said. “It is important that activities such as this are shared with Filipinos because it brings us closer… It deepens our friendship and understanding of each other.”
Sofitel has been this Oktoberfest’s home for the past five years, and Laker said it will remain so for the next four years.
“They know what we can do and we know what they’re after. It’s a perfect relationship. We’re like a marriage now,” Laker said.
Now that we had a taste of the most authentic Oktoberfest experience outside Munich, what should we expect next year?
“Let us surprise you,” Hoffmann said. “We guarantee that every year we will have a wonderful Oktoberfest.”