Sara Luehmann is working with H&F’s communications team during October, as part of an EU exchange programme for public service employees. Her home is Berlin’s borough Friedrichshain-Kreuzberg, where she works as spokesperson for the council. We sent her out to find some German flavour as part of our H&F – the Heart of Europe series...
What comes to everyone’s mind when they think about Germany? Apart from the Germans’ famous punctuality, tidiness and great engineering, it’s probably beer, bratwurst and football.
H&F offers all these things in one place at Octoberfest pub, 678-680 Fulham Road in SW6: the full on German experience. Or is it?
It is Oktoberfest (note the slightly different spelling) in Munich right now. So what better time is there to do some research on Fulham’s own Octoberfest.
Despite my first protests, pointing out that Bavaria is only one part of Germany and I am a Prussian which is a completely different thing after all.
Not quite the venue I would have chosen for my first Saturday night in London!
But having been to the real Oktoberfest ten years ago, I can now assess how authentic the H&F one is.
The bar claims to offers the authentic 'Wiesn' experience: with Bavarian beer, sausages and Gemütlichkeit - all year round. Live bands play brass music in the pub every Friday and Saturday night.
The pub serves more than 60 different German beers. Most are from Bavaria, but some from other parts of the country.
On top of that, guests can try German wines and schnapps. All the drinks, and the majority of the food they serve, is imported directly from Germany. The bratwurst is the very same that is being served in Bayern Munich’s stadium (should any Chelsea fans want a familiar taste of glory!).
“With 90 percent of our produce coming directly from Germany, the Brexit referendum has already affected us,” says Lawrence Schmid, Octoberfest’s operations manager.
“With the pound immediately losing value in summer 2016, it has pushed the prices for our imports. No one knows what is going to happen after the Brexit, but it will probably make things more difficult for our business.”
That is a familiar concern among London businesses. H&F Council has pledged to do everything possible to protect local jobs and career opportunities after Brexit, and has called on the government to abandon plans for a hard or no-deal Brexit. It is calling for the British people to have a vote on whatever deal they end up getting. Read more on H&F’s policy on Brexit.
That attention to detail with suppliers is all part of Lawrence's plan to recreate a Bavarian pub in the heart of Fulham. “I especially love the atmosphere in German pubs,” he said. “You go in there not knowing anyone and walk away with new friends.”
I am little sceptical about getting to know new people just by sitting in the same pub. While this may very much be true for the south and the west of Germany, northerners are known to be quite introvert and taciturn. In my experience, if you went to a pub somewhere in rural Lower Saxony without knowing anyone, you’d leave still not knowing anyone.
The pub resembles a traditional Bavarian beer hall. Furnished with beer tables and benches, and decorated with white and blue checked Bavarian flags. The waitresses wear dirndls, the traditional Bavarian dress for women. “We really are a Bavarian pub rather than a German one,” Lawrence explains.
This is a very important distinction. As a northern German, it can be frustrating at times that Bavarian culture is so dominant abroad. Often, to foreigners, Bavaria seems to be synonymous with Germany. But it is not. Bavaria is just very fond of its traditions and seems to have done a better job in marketing them.
So, as a German, how realistic is Octoberfest? It is, as far as I can say, authentically Bavarian. Lots of beer. Very big beer glasses. Lots of meat on the menu. A few too many vegetarian options for it to be truly Bavarian! (Not that I was complaining).
For it to be an even more authentic Oktoberfest experience, there would need to be extremely long queues for the toilets. Also, the brass band would not be allowed to play popular music as they do here, which was quite refreshing. Sometimes, a little less authenticity can enhance the experience, I suppose.
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