The facts and figures of the original Oktoberfest in Munich are quite impressive: 6.5 million visitors drink seven million litres of beer, and eat half a million chickens and 250, 000 pork sausages.
Compared to Germany’s 201-year-old fair, the Cambodian spin-off is an absolute beginner. But size doesn’t matter when it’s about fun, food and beer. Last weekend 2,500 party people, mainly German expats and Cambodian locals, enjoyed Oktoberfest on Phnom Penh’s Diamond Island in an authentic beer tent, with white-blue tablecloth, German food, and Bavarian songs like Ein Prosit der Gemuetlichkeit and Zickezacke, Zickezacke – Hoi Hoi Hoi.
Organiser Tassilo Brinzer, president of the German Business Group, predicts a bright future for the annual party.
“A rising number of people mark our Oktoberfest in their calendars,” he said. “This year, some of them even travelled to Phnom Penh from Thailand and Singapore.”
The two-day Oktoberfest, which was officially opened by German ambassador Wolfgang Moser, has become the most popular way for German companies in Cambodia to present their services.
“We try to make the party as German as possible”, said Brinzer. With that in mind, the organisers chose a 1,800-square-metre beer tent instead of a hotel ballroom, and long benches instead of single chairs and banquet tables.
Even the small selection of Khmer food that was served at earlier Oktoberfests was abolished this year. “It’s a German Oktoberfest with German food”, said Brinzer.
“When I am invited to a Khmer wedding party, I do not expect German food also.”
Food supplier Danmeat roasted an average of 300 grams of pork per visitor, and served it with baked pretzels and big bowls full of potato salad, sauerkraut and more than 3000 litres of Tiger Beer.
But an Asian beer brand at a German Oktoberfest? Yes, since no Bavarian brewery was willing or able to deliver sufficient beer barrels and pumps for a reasonable price.
At least the music came from the motherland, with a performance by the Paulaner Band, from Bavaria (with a few members from Austria).
The band specialises in Asian Oktoberfest parties, flying every year to countries like Thailand, Singapore and Korea. Their big advantage is that they speak “Bavarian English” and can encourage the international audience to take part in their activities.
Since the travel expenses of the band are quite high, they are one of the main reasons why the Oktoberfest in Phnom Penh lasts two days.
This year the band introduced Cambodian visitors to traditional German party ceremonies like “Lift your glasses!”, “Catch your neighbour’s shoulders!”, and “March in a long line across the tent!”
Due to some unexpected power cuts the musicians had to improvise several times and play their trumpets and squeezeboxes without loudspeakers, thus becoming Paulaner unplugged.
The German Business Group is encouraging more Cambodians to join the party in the future. “We keep the ticket prices as low as $18, including two free drinks, a buffet and some gifts,” said Brinzer. “We cannot make a big profit, but more important than the money is our good reputation.”
What started as a small party by five German volunteers less than a decade ago has become a full-time job with high responsibility.
Therefore the German Business Group has handed over the preparation of the annual Oktoberfest to a private company. And in October 2012, right after the end of the rain season, the fest will be held in cooperation with the European Chamber of Commerce for the first time.
Any wishes for the future? “We would like to see more Cambodian women wearing the traditional Bavarian costumes”, said Brinzer.
Except for the eye-catching Tiger-Beer-waitresses in their white and blue Dirndl costumes, this year’s dress code was extremely non-Bavarian. However, there is hope. “Last year I saw only one Cambodian lady with a Dirndl, this year at least ten”, said Brinzer, adding with a smile, “That means we could multiply the Dirndl by ten within only one year.”