As September turns to October in Beijing, Myles and Brigid look forward to their favorite autumn holiday. Brigid takes great pains to plan what she will wear that night, and Myles’ mouth waters anticipating what he might eat. For weeks they ask me how much longer they have to wait.
It isn’t Halloween that gets my kids excited for October. Living in Changping these last seven years we haven’t always been able to celebrate All Hallow’s Eve. What they most look forward to is Paulaner Oktoberfest at the Kempinski Hotel.
The first time we went, four years ago, was at the invitation of my German friend, Jenny. We thought we might decline since we had no sitter. Besides, we weren’t sure it would be appropriate for kids. I was familiar with the tradition of Oktoberfest, a big Bavarian beer party started in the early nineteenth century to celebrate Prince Ludwig’s wedding that was so successful it was held annually since then. In more recent times it has a reputation as a beer-soaked tourist attraction in Munich. We were uncertain how it would go at the Kempinski.
Jenny assured me that it would be no problem for children to attend. I was relieved, given how much my kids adore all things German, especially the food, from our own occasional trips there. They would be so disappointed missing a chance to be in a German environment, if even for only one evening in Beijing.
A few hours before we were to meet, Jenny posted an image to social media illustrating the proper way for a young woman to tie her dirndl bow to signify relationship status. I thought she was joking, so I replied with an apology that we were planning on wearing jeans. I realized I underestimated the level of celebration we were in for when she tweeted to me, “That’s okay, not everyone’s going to be in dirndl and lederhosen. It’s just that for Germans in exile, this is the only chance to!”
When we arrived, we found Jenny, wearing her dirndl, as I now expected. The Germans in the growing crowd were most easily identified by their clothing, but we fit in fine with everyone else; a mix of locals and foreigners, who were come-as-you-are. Much to my delight, there were many other families there, too.
We ate our fill of Bavarian food and ordered large mugs (called maßkrug) of beer for us and sparkling apple juice (apfelschorle) for the kids. The maßkrug, though, had other purposes. They were essential accoutrements for hoisting over our heads during frequent toasts when the band intoned “Ein Prosit, ein Prosit!”(“Cheers, cheers!”) Even Brigid, holding her maßkrug with two hands, chimed in.
After our plates were cleared, the music had us on our feet, even atop the benches and tables like they do at the real festival. Naturally, the happy chaos of dancing on furniture held a special appeal for Myles who remained up there for the rest of the night. Brigid stayed on the ground, more intent on learning the motions to German children’s songs that also happen to be popular at Oktoberfest, like “Cowboy und Indianer.” There was much more dancing, and jumping, and arm-linking, and toasts for hours of pure fun.
By the time we retired to our hotel room, exhausted yet ecstatic, the kids were already talking about coming back every year. Our only regret was that we hadn’t started this Oktoberfest-in-Beijing tradition sooner.
About the Writer
Jennifer Ambrose hails from Western Pennsylvania and misses it terribly. She still maintains an intense devotion to the Pittsburgh Steelers. She has lived in China since 2006 and is currently an at-home mother. With her husband Randy and children Myles and Brigid, she resides outside Sixth Ring Road in Changping. Her blog can be found at jenambrose.blogspot.com.
This article originally appeared on page 51 of the beijingkids October 2015 issue. Click here to read the issue for free on Issuu.com. To find out how you can get your own copy, email firstname.lastname@example.org.