FIRST held in Munich exactly two centuries ago in 1810, the Oktoberfest fever eventually caught on elsewhere and is now celebrated, on varying scales, around the world – Penang included.
A fun-filled street party was held at Upper Penang Road last Saturday night to mark the annual German-inspired celebration of beer, food and frivolity with hundreds of locals joining their foreign counterparts in revelry.
Despite Mother Nature threatening to rain on proceedings early in the evening, the skies eventually cleared and the crowds started trickling in.
Many people were spotted wearing stylised beer stein hats. There were also a few in lederhosen (traditional German leather breeches).
The Oom-pah band, playing a repertoire of traditional Bavarian tunes, had some of the crowd waving along, while others cheered with giant mugs in hand.
A series of games enlivened the atmosphere, with the Chicken Dance attracting the more adventurous members of the crowd. Some, who were initially hesitant, eventually relented after being persuaded by local lasses dressed as Bavarian beer maids.
Laughs were aplenty as people imitated their avian counterparts, with those unable to keep up with a preset routine of gestures being eliminated.
The fun continued with the Beer Barrel Roll, which required participants to roll an empty barrel up a ramp in the fastest time possible.
Graeme Cowlyn and wife Kelly, from Chester, England, were among those who took on the challenge, and won a box of goodies for their efforts.
Currently in Malaysia on a 17-day vacation, they chanced upon the celebrations on the way back to their hotel and decided to join in.
“We’ve been to the Oktoberfest in Germany before, but this one is equally good. Over there it’s usually held in large tents, so it’s nice to be able to sit outdoors here.
“It’s brilliant, everyone is relaxed, having fun and participating,” said Cowlyn.
The couple revealed that they were initially staying in a hotel in Tanjung Bungah, but decided to move to the heart of George Town to be closer to action, and it paid off.
Others tried their luck in the Pretzel Toss. Getting the knotted pieces of bread to hook onto the beer bottles was tougher than it seemed.
The Beer Stein Race was the night’s highlight. Bound by the legs, teams of two had to carry a full stein of beer and race another pair of participants to the finish line, while spilling as little brew as possible.
Challenging as it may be, some made light work of it and completed the course with ease. A few teams were not that fortunate, running into each other and seeing splashes of golden liquid hit the floor.
One participant drew applause when he stopped mid-race, and began drinking the beer instead.
Throughout the night, the crowd were also entertained by stilt-walkers, magicians and balloon artists. Some even had their caricatures drawn for free.
Penang-born entrepreneur Loke Gim Tay, currently based in Singapore, said he immediately took a flight back upon hearing about the celebrations.
“It brings life to Penang, and I love to see it like this. The atmosphere is great,” he added.
The event, organised by Guinness Anchor Berhad (GAB), is touted as the largest Oktoberfest celebration in the country. The Penang street party was one of five with the others taking place at three locations in the Klang Valley, as well as another in Kota Kinabalu.
Speaking during the event launch earlier, GAB marketing director Mark Jenner said: “Oktoberfest is famously known as the beer festival and is a world-wide celebration that brings friends and family together.
“To celebrate its 200th year of cheers and festivities, we would like to reward our customers with all-day, month long happy hours and exciting street parties all over Malaysia,” he said.