Oktoberfest is a model of German efficiency. In Theresienwiese the streets are emptied, the sign-posts clear, the Metro policed, all in an effort to make the punters flow to the beer and the beer flow in to the punters. Inside the Hippodrom, the brown-shirted security parade to the sound of the Bavarian band, dirndl-clad women dance a procession of maß between the tables, and even the toilets are subjected to a fully marshalled one-way system. Vorsprung durch Technik!
As with any celebration of drink, Oktoberfest was destined for export and now every September large tents filled to bursting with aggressive Australians and vomiting Americans can be found across the globe. That said, a visit to London's Oktoberfest in Millwall Park on a Thursday night was a relatively sedate affair. Not a fist-throwing Antipodean insight. Nor many people of any nationality for that matter, fist-throwing or not. Perhaps it was the location - two stops shy of Greenwich on the DLR - perhaps because it was a week night, perhaps a lack of interest or a lack of marketing. Regardless of the reason, there were yards and yards (and yards) of clean, polished trestle collecting dust under the roof of the giant marquee.
The lack of interest did nothing to dull the noise and as the beer flowed and some tables began to fill, the atmosphere definitely improved. Full, this would be the real thing. Tall beers, girls in costume, overly loud German drinking music blasting from a live band, and those crazed looking old people who dance to every song. It's a shame the beer was served in plastic steins.
Sitting at the front of the tent, behind the velvet rope of the VIP (thanks to those good folks at Pitman's People*), I had no idea whether the experience of the hoi polloi was a good one. Those dancing in the mud seemed to be having a good time and ours wasn't bad either. Granted, the beer left a lot to be desired; but then you don't visit Oktoberfest for the beer, more the effect it has on you. The food though was remarkably good. Classic German fare of frankfurter, boiled sausage, schnitzel, pretzel, chips, and cold potato and chilli. Enough carbohydrate to absorb the alcohol and enough salt to make you thirsty for more.
Oktoberfest has now left London. If you can't make it to Munich next year, stay in London for a small taste of what you're missing.
*Disclaimer: I was invited to attend Oktoberfest by Pitman's People. They paid for the food, the beer, and sat with me to make sure I had a good time.