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Culture

London beer lovers raise a glass for Oktoberfest

The home of the Oktoberfest may be in southern Germany, but this has not been enough to deter the English from joining in the celebrations this autumn.

Waitress carrying beer at Oktoberfest beer festival

The Oktoberfest beer festival in Munich celebrated its 200th anniversary this year

The sight of Lederhosen, accordion players and dirndl-clad waitresses is perhaps not something you'd expect to find in England, but at London's Bavarian Beerhouse that is exactly what you will find.

This enormous subterranean beer hall in central London is open to customers all year round, but puts on special celebrations to coincide with Oktoberfest. Unlike the German original that lasts just over a fortnight, this London fest - now in its fifth year - is on for a full eight weeks.

Castle of Neuschwanstein

Typisch Deutsch! Castle of Neuschwanstein built for the Bavarian King Ludwig II in a neo-late romanesque style

"We started with just two weeks," said manager Jessie Kalkun, "but it was so popular that we just kept adding on more weeks, people just seem to love it."

The sound of music

Apart from the five beers on offer here, the most authentic Bavarian imports are the eight live bands flown in direct from Munich, one for every week of the celebrations.

"It's just amazing to see people's reaction to the music," said Kalkun. "At the beginning of the night they are sitting down and chatting and by the end they are dancing like mad on the benches, people really get into it and it's a proper party."

Events organizer at the beer hall, Hannah Essinger, says that the Bavarian atmosphere is actually something quite novel.

"It's just a very special time," she said. "It's almost quite exotic here for the British, they just don't have anything like this, they just love the traditional Bavarian music and the Bavarian beer and that's why this event is so unique."

Bavarian with Beerstein

Here, you can sample the Real McCoy!

Larger than life

Customers can expect all the favorite Bavarian cliches: over-sized beer jugs, waitresses wearing matching dirndls and of course a traditional food menu that includes, amongst other things "Hachse" - a pork shank with sauerkraut, gravy and dumplings.

Although most of the customers - around 85 percent - are English, there are of course some Germans who have come for a bit of nostalgia.

"It's authentic enough for them," said Essinger. "Of course it can't be quite the same, and we do overdo it a little, but they still think it's a bit like home."

For many Germans living in London, coming to the beer hall is a way to introduce their English friends to a bit of German culture.

"A lot of the time with big groups you'll find that one of them is German and has brought his or her friends to show them how we do it," said Essinger.

Bavarian Schweinshaxe or pork shank with dumplings

Guten Appetit! Enjoy your meal. Bavarian Schweinshaxe

Making the effort

All the waitresses must speak fluent German to work here, which seems to have a positive effect on the customers.

"Lots of people try and speak German when they come here, they want to impress us with their language skills and I really think it is all down to the great Oktoberfest atmosphere," said Kalkun.

Despite this willingness to adapt to the German way of doing things, many visitors can't quite understand the table service that, while the norm in Germany, is unheard of in English pubs and bars.

"Some of them just don't get it," Kalkun remarked. "Some just keep wanting to get up to order."

Dedication to the cause

Working on Oktoberfest celebrations for a full eight weeks might seem like enough for most. But, for the staff at the Bavarian Beerhouse in London, they are all off for a weekend in Munich to enjoy the last days of the genuine article.

"For us it's a little break," said Kalkun. "After three weeks straight working, we have our break on the real Oktoberfest and get some energy back for the last five weeks."

Author: Sarah Stolarz

Editor: Nigel Tandy/Kate Bowen

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