On Saturday night me and Mrs PBBB and our Welsh rellies went to Alexandra Palace for the fireworks.
We’d seen an ad for a German Bierfest in the building itself, and decided to check that out for a couple of hours beforehand.
We were promised authentic German beer, authentic German sausages, and authentic German music. I still have flashbacks to my time at Oktoberfest five years ago, like a Vietnam vet, only in a good way. While there, I realised that it wasn’t a celebration of beer per se, but a celebration of communion and friendship that had beer at its heart. For three days we were up on our seats forming conga lines and toasting people we had only just met, and the oompah bands – never something I had previously listened to voluntarily – drove the atmosphere and buzz in each tent as adeptly as any superstar DJ.
It didn’t take long to realise that Ally Pally wasn’t going to be quite the same.
At least the beer was Paulaner. And I wouldn’t have minded the £4 a pint price tag if it hadn’t been served in the cheapest possible plastic glasses, with no sign of the characteristic thick, foaming head it should be served with. (If you didn’t want decent beer, you could have had Fosters for £3.60). Attractive bar staff served us at our tables, which was good. But the flimsy glasses and their lack of experience meant the only way for them to carry the beer was in cardboard carriers of four pints each. As they walked they tended to swing these, leaving trails of spilt beer in their wake.
The tables and benches were incredibly flimsy and clearly would not have supported anything other than sitting politely.
The ‘authentic German food throughout the venue’ turned out to be one stall selling Bratwurst and sauerkraut for £6 a pop – or piddling Herta Frankfurters at £3 a go. The other alternatives were overpriced and frankly inedible looking authentic Bavarian pizza, or the authentically Bavarian Fine Burger Co.
The oompah band played none of the big hits from Munich, the tunes that really get the crowd going. They came from Ipswich, and alternated with an authentic Bavarian Irish folk band.
The whole thing was a bit mystifying – why go on about how authentic it’s going to be and then not even try?
And why can’t the English organise something like Oktoberfest? I caught myself at one point thinking, “Ah, but there’s thousands of people here. You could never have proper glassware, proper service, proper food, proper chairs and tables at an event this size. You just wouldn’t be able to police it properly and guarantee people’s safety”. And then I remembered that Oktoberfest does exactly that – this gathering was small compared to any one of the giant tents in Munich, which managed to serve more people better food at better table in proper glasses.
I was feeling decidedly grumpy, pissing off the others with my inability to just accept it for what it was.
And then, we went outside and the sky lit up, and for half an hour cynical middle-aged beer writers and small children alike went “ooh”, and “aaah”.
And I realised that sometimes – just occasionally – the best thing you can do is shrug and say, “So what? It’s only beer.”