Tuesday, 15 December 2009

Essen Kerstbierfestival 2009

I'm a creature of habit. I go to the Kerstbierfestival every year. This year was no exception.

Andrew didn't fancy it this time. He preferred spending the day rotting away his brain with some game or other. Bloody youth of today. Lexie volunteering to come took me aback. Didn't think he cared much for beer festivals.

I soon twigged why Lexie was so keen. He wanted an excuse to watch the Simpsons episodes he'd just loaded onto his ipod. Perhaps he wouldn't be quite as good company as I had hoped. Bloody youth of today, always got their faces glued to a screen. It wasn't like that in my day. We spent our days running wild across streams and fields, at one with nature. Yes, really. Apart from when the telly was on. Or it was raining. Or Sunday.

Where was I? Bloody youth of today.

Mike always works at the festival. Everyone has to work sometime. It could be worse than one Saturday in December. He'd tried to persuade me to take the 08:37 train from Amsterdam Centraal. "Too bloody early." was my succinct reply. I managed to persuade him to go an hour later. It's alright for Mike. He just has a few minutes stroll to the station. I'm a tram ride away.

Once seated on the train, I took out my special treat for the trip. Beckbräu Bierschnapps (thanks Gunnar). A nice little eye-opener. The cloudy, urine-like hue didn't put Mike off. Nor me. Though he showed admirable restraint. Saving himself for work, I guess. I found it went very nicely with the St. Bernardus Abt I'd decanted into plastic bottles. No point dying of thirst en route.

Lexie and Mike we soon getting on disturbingly well. Now they had a Mac device in common. While tried to interest myself in polders and cows, they checked out each other apps (whatever they are). Very entertaining. For them. Bloody youth of today. Am I the only person without my face permanently glued to a screen? Even Mike was up to it. Bloody old of today.

The Dutch high speed train line is just getting up to speed. A scheduled passenger train exceeded 300 kph for the first time at the weekend. I think that's why went via Den Bosch to Rosendaal. Where we had the traditional half hour wait for the local train that pootles over the border. Just enough time for a nose warmer in the station bar.

Mike's even more habitual than me. I knew he'd have a stop planned at the bakery between Essen station and the festival site. I bought some ham and two chocolate baked things for Lexie.

As we neared the hall Mike unexpectedly said: "The festival doesn't start for another hour. I can get into the hall, but you'll have to wait outside." Thanks Mike. It's freezing cold, all the pubs are shut and I'm dying for a wee. You total, total, total bastard. Bloody old of today.

I soon realised I wasn't going to find a toilet in time. Thank god for bushes, that's all I say. I was within a minute of a very embarrassing trouser moment.

There was only one place to wait out the cold hour ahead of us. The chippie. That was open. We went in. What to have? Grey lumps, pretending to be meat, filled the chilled display. Maybe just stick to chips. And beer, obviously. Even Jupiler was better than going thirsty. The wait was long enough to justify two.

We joined a fairly long queue, Lexie and I, outside the hall. Luckily, it was moving reasonably quickly. Soon we were inside, warm and I had a glass and ten tokens in my hand. What to try first?

I didn't even open the programme. I walked straight up to Mike and said "A St. Bernardus Kerstbier, please. And make it snappy. I've spent the last hour freezing my bollocks off." That's what I wanted to say. Being polite, I stopped after the first sentence.

The afternoon passed quickly. We found the Washington mob and soon beer had faded into the background, lubricating, not driving, the talk. We enjoyed a few of those happy hours, where nothing exists but the here and the now, the company and the conversation, trapped in an amber moment.

Tim Webb wandered by with a film crew. Lexie gave an interview. He was annoyingly charming. Bloody youth of today, always taking over.

Before I knew it, there was Mike saying "time for bed". Where the hell had the hours gone?

Our route back was almost 100% different from the one we'd taken in the morning. But at least there was only one change. Jumping off at Woerden and heading for Bodegraven crossed my mind. But, as I've told you many times, I'm lazier than a sloth on valium.

Lexie got himself a shoarma before we got the tram home. Isn't it Mike who's supposed to do that? Bloody whatever of today.


Gunnar H said...

You're very welcome!

Gary Gillman said...

Well-reported as usual.

I can relate to the austerity of the buildings and the northern atmosphere in general. They have a charm of their own which probably is only explicable to a fellow-northerner.

We had similar buildings in Montreal, Quebec where I grew up. The older brick building shown reminds me of Catholic schools built in that city just after the First War, for example. Perhaps it is is mostly the cool grey skies and mist that create this feeling.

That picture of Gordon's Scotch Ale is something very close to ads I first saw for this beer in Calais and Boulogne in the 1980's, my first landing points to visit the Continent. Again I felt very at home there, especially with French spoken all round me. But the season had a lot to do with it, too. (I first went to both in the autumn).

There is a kind of northern feeling probably common to all who grew up in cool or cold countries.

Any stand-out beers at the fest, Ron?


Ron Pattinson said...

Gary, the red brick building is Essen train station.

Stand out beers? St. Bernardus Christmas Ale. That was about all I drank, though.

Unknown said...

Hello Ron,

nice to read your side of the Kerstbierfestival story. If you want to avoid the cold next year in the row outside you can become a volunteer helper as Mike aswell. Just sine-up for 2 hours or more eg from 12:00 to 14:00. It's quickly done on the official OBER.be site. List of volunteers (helpers) wil be there from begining of October.

and see you on the next edition.
Tastingnote-editor, Beerlocator, Beerbuyer, 'Bierkot'-manager etc etc etc... or just the man that made it possible.
Werner Mertens (not to mix up with Gunter that also does a lot and is no family)