Vancouver kicks off 17-day Oktoberfest party

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      If you listen closely, you can hear the strains of the oompah-pah music announcing the coming of this year’s Oktoberfest.

      From September 18 to October 4, Germans—and many, many honorary Germans—will be carousing into the wee hours. With endless beer and sausages galore, there’s a whole lot to like about this 17-day party. Bring on the bleary vision, satiated bellies, and excess of merriment!

      This colossal booze fest has been taking place annually since 1810, when Crown Prince Ludwig held festivities in Munich to celebrate his marriage to Princess Therese. Luckily for us, the party has spread worldwide. Sarah Koethur, events coordinator for the Vancouver Alpen Club (4875 Victoria Drive), is still on the fence about whether she’ll be donning a dirndl (a traditional German dress) for the club’s Oktoberfest events. (Tickets are on sale to the public for $25 at Expect rowdy sing-alongs and accordion music when bands like S-Bahn (September 18) and Al Pichler and the Alpiners (October 9 and 16) take to the Alpen Club stage. Revellers can chow down on weisswurst sausage, soft pretzels, sauerkraut, and roast pork before washing it all down with a Kí¶nig Ludwig Weiss beer.

      How long do the parties last? “Pretty much until everyone’s drunk,” Koethur says during a phone interview.

      Kai Sengewitz, executive chef at La Brasserie (1091 Davie Street), knows all too well the blur that is the Munich Oktoberfest. “I was there four times, and four times I didn’t know how I got home,” he recalls during a mid-afternoon chat at the restaurant. Sengewitz is quick to add that Oktoberfest isn’t just about the alcohol; it’s equally about enjoying authentic German cuisine. On a regular day at his restaurant, Sengewitz cooks up dishes like suckling pig with sauerkraut and schupfnudel (thick, rolled noodles), and house-made bratwurst with mash, to pay tribute to the hearty meat-and-potatoes cooking of his youth in Riesa, Germany.

      Besides the regular menu, the restaurant will also have special Oktoberfest items from September 30 to October 2. An appetizer of obatzen (a spread made using Camembert, shallots, chives, and butter) with pretzels will be on offer, as well as mains such as rotisserie chicken and schweinshaxe (roasted pork hock) with salted boiled potatoes. And on October 3, La Brasserie will clear the dining room for a full-on bash starting at 6:30 p.m., complete with mini suckling pig sandwiches, butcher’s plates, and one-litre steins of beer. Even better, the whole event is free. Glug, glug.

      But of course, a German feast calls for schnitzel, and lots of it. Alex Doubrava, chef and co-owner of Jagerhof Schnitzel House (71 Lonsdale Avenue, North Vancouver), claims to be a schnitzel expert. There are 20 varieties on his menu, the most popular being a pork one stuffed with ham and Camembert. His basic recipe consists of pork tenderloin that he pounds thin, covers with flour, and then dips in egg before coating in house-made bread crumbs. A quick pan-fry, and it’s ready to be served with spaetzle (noodle-like dumplings) or pan-fried potatoes, plus red cabbage or sauerkraut. There are four sauces to choose from, including a mushroom cream sauce that Doubrava particularly recommends.

      Speaking by phone, Doubrava gets nostalgic as he remembers the vibrant German restaurant scene on “Robsonstrasse” that eventually declined in the late ’60s, while his restaurant on the North Shore remained one of the few German stalwarts in business. “There used to be a whole bunch of German restaurants on Robson, but all the German restaurants there faded away”¦but we’re still here,” he says. After 30 years of business, Doubrava is now welcoming the grandchildren of some of his loyal customers, many of whom will be stopping by the restaurant with Oma and Opa for Oktoberfest sausage platters and slices of apple strudel.

      Sunny Manihani, owner of the Old Bavaria Haus (233 6th Street, New Westminster), has his own Oktoberfest memories. He associates the festivities with the years he spent in Germany when he was a teenager. His response when asked what the event means to him is, “It’s about socializing, having fun.”

      By phone, he says he hopes restaurant guests can capture some of that excitement while supping on chef Michael Rick’s pork schnitzel topped with sautéed mushrooms and béarnaise sauce, and braised beef rouladen stuffed with bacon, onion, and dill pickle and served with spaetzle. As for beer? Warsteiner, Manihani says unequivocally.

      With enough of it, you may just be brave enough to put on those lederhosen that are in your closet.