Germany’s beer related traditions not only cause worldwide attention, they also inspire quite flattering imitation. As a result, Argentina’s version of Oktoberfest is about to celebrate it’s 47th round. From the 1st till the 12th of October, the tiny Villa General Belgrano hosts La Fiesta Nacional de la Cerveza and everything in the village next to Córdoba becomes all about the traditions of domestic and international ale. Last year, The Argentina Independent sent me, a German-born journalist, to see how it compared to the original Oktoberfest.
It feels a bit like home arriving at this tiny village after a fifteen hour bus ride from Buenos Aires. This is because everything is adorned with black-red-golden flags and traditional german folk music floats through every single street of the rural town. Hotels, restaurants and cafés are busy preparing for tourists from in- and outside the country and furthermore, tons of sauerkraut, sausages and pretzels await the expected crowds. Typical customs like wearing lederhosen, doing the Schuhplattler-dances, or yodeling are all around me, creating an antiquated but laugher-inducing image of the homeland of beer
The Same, But Different: Exporting the Oktoberfest
Close to its original background in Europe, all the usual procedures of the Oktoberfest are accomplished. Everything starts on Friday with the acclaimed espiche, the act of the keg tapping. Then, litres of beer smash out of the barrel into the crowd and the ten-day homage starts off. Different central-European dancers and musicians make their stage-shows, attracting families during the daytime and at night visitors with dull drinking slogan shirts enjoy raising their steins by singing, swaying and toasting together.
While Oktoberfest in Germany has a darker side – its far-fetched prices, the immoderate beer consumption and the comparatively high violence – the Argentine pendant is much calmer and also more affordable. Apart from pickpockets, the general mood is peaceful and the onda of this lovely village, where every inhabitant helps run the event, is very positive. Considering the Argentine standard, the price of $30 for one litre of beer might be high. But in comparison to Munich’s €14 – and its minimum consumption of three litres and one meal to get a reservation in a tent – it seems really reasonable.
The informal, rural character of the event is conspicuous. Briefcase inspections are made sporadically, security personnel and bartenders get drunk, and it’s even easy to sneak inside without paying the entrance of $20 to $30 a day. Graciela Pereyra, spokesman for Villa General Belgrano, is reasoning this with the “serenity of the event and its main aim of having a good time” instead of capitalist purposes. The charming neglect of duties just adds up to the focus on amusement.
Villa General Belgrano was founded sometime in the early 1940s and was always famous for its huge german population. This society was established after the sinking of the Graf Spee, a german warship, in front of the Argentine coast in 1939. Many crew members settled in the little village and their descendants still live there. The village population grew in the last four years from 4,000 to 8,500 inhabitants, and mayor Fabián Hoss describes its manera de ser, fitting the German stereotype, as “hard-working people”.
The appearance of the little town is very old-fashioned and there are many family-owned shops, breweries and other businesses. Here and there, you can even hear inhabitants speaking German, but with every generation, this decreases more and more. Anyway, once a year it comes up again and Villa General Belgrano cheers for Germany.
And for those who don’t know, Schuhplattler is a bavarian dance. Its movements go back to the courtship behaviour of mountain cocks. The dancers bounce rhythmically while they alternately hit their thighs, knees and feet. It looks as ridiculous as it sounds.
Lead image: The monks prepare for the espiche by Flavia Aveta (courtesy of www.elsitiodelavilla.com)