*This was originally published on Kolby Does Europe…
I love Oktoberfest. And I’ve never been.
Well, not to the real one anyway. And sure, I must have had the conversation 12 times with my friends at last weekend’s Harvest Haus in downtown Vancouver – that one where everyone says, ‘We have to go to Munich for Oktoberfest, and we HAVE to go next year!’
I’d go if I could. Duh. So hopefully I can.
I have, however, been to two Oktoberfests outside of Germany. Again, not the real one, but last weekend’s in Vancouver and 2006’s in Kitchener, Ontario. Back then, I ran out of money early and the only thing I could afford to eat was a full plate of Sauerkraut. No hot dog or bun or anything – just a plastic fork and a pile of sweet cabbage, or whatever Sauerkraut is. (I’m serious, by the way… and I ate the whole thing.)
The folks at Harvest Haus at least made that part a little easier on me.
The event was $40, which is expensive considering you didn’t get a free beer with that. (Hint to the organizers – we’d like a free beer or two.) The prices weren’t outrageous, though, although you had to use your real money to buy this token-ish money called Gulden – $2 Canadian got you one Gulden, and beers cost between 3 and 6 Gulden.
So yeah, the upfront was rather front-heavy.
But the event was ecstasy – well worth the $100 or so you needed to spend to keep your mug topped-up. And it was four hours worth of ecstasy, which was plenty of time and somehow still not enough. In fact, when our evening session ended – we got General Admission tickets from 6:00 to 10:00 pm – it was flat-out depressing. I remember feeling like I was stumbling out of a theme park that had kept me suspended in this delightfully foreign, Bavarian world, and when I got outside it was like wandering from a dark bar straight to the sunshine at 8 a.m. You almost wondered, ‘Where was I just now? And why does it have to be over now?’
The highlight, for me – each beer had its station, and every taste was catered to. For those who wanted to spend 6 Gulden (remember, that’s $12 Canadian) on a beer, you had that beautiful Belgian brew known was Leffe.
Below that, you had Hoegaarden, Warsteiner, Lowenbrau, Krombacher, and Pilsner Urquell, and each of them had its own tap in either end of the massive tent that covered practically all of Vancouver’s Queen Elizabeth square. (I’d point you towards Urquell 100 per cent of the time.) The beer stations were marked by the brands’ various logos – which floated above and behind the servers’ heads – and the prices were on the tables.
(At the bottom end of the price list was Samuel Adams Boston Lager and Rickard’s, FYI.)
I’m not gonna lie to you and pretend that I was sober for four hours or anything like that. This is an honest diary – or, at least, there’s an effort here to be honest. But I spent $50 on beer tokens (that gave me 26 little chips) and it gets harder and harder to chug through that much of Germany’s (or the Czech Republic’s) delicious golden nectar, especially if you’re using it to wash down the Sausage or the Pork and Chicken they serve outside the tent.
Having been to Prague, Krakow, Vienna, and Berlin, by the way, I can confidently say that the Harvest Haus crew nailed the brau and breaded beef scene they were aiming for. There’s a special pleasure in walking through those old, Eastern European cities, where every summer day seems to be lined with some street market or fast food stall party – they’re like the original food trucks, and all they serve are sausages, onions, condiments, the remains of a pig, and creamy, definitely-not-non-alcoholic beer. It’s that same sort of great feeling you get when you first visit Florida and the sunshine almost smells different down there. It’s the same feeling you get when you visit Toronto or Chicago, the sort of massive, tall cities we know for them having Big Shoulders or sharp elbows. They feel like real cities, which means they are. And it’s hard to put into words exactly what that means, but you can also just sort of smile when you’re experiencing it because you don’t have to write it down or repeat it to anyone else – unless you do the stupid thing I’m doing right now, where I’m literally taking it upon myself to let myself down.
Well, Oktoberfest – the ones I’ve been to, at least – carry the same charm, culture, and sweet, addictive suds.
I would have appreciated Saturday more if I could have kept more of my cash, instead of sinking that $90 right away. But then again, I supposed I’d always prefer to keep more of my cash. If given the choice between being fun and being cheap, I’m afraid I – and many others – would chicken out and go for cheap. And I understand now that Harvest Haus needs to make its money – otherwise, it will evaporate into nothingness like last year’s Heritage Classic or that giant CBC monitor from 2011, the one the Stanley Cup rioters smashed on Georgia Street.
And the fact I think that would be a tragedy should tell you, whoever put this Oktoberfest together pulled it off.