Published in The Global New Light of Myanmar on 14 October 2015
Two-hundred years ago, a prince and princess were wed in the Bavarian capital of Munich, Germany. Insofar as wedding parties go, the event was something of a hit – to put it mildly. The royal wedding held in October 1810 spurred what is known today as Oktoberfest, the world’s largest beer festival that attracts six million revellers at celebrations held across the world.
The great, great grandson of the groom of that fateful wedding, Prince Luitpold of Bavaria (who later became King Ludwig I), was the guest of honour at Yangon’s Oktoberfest celebrations on October 9 and 10, which were held at Inya Lake Hotel. This was the fourth time that Oktoberfest was celebrated in Myanmar’s commercial capital, with the number of guests increasing ten-fold to 2,500 since the event made its debut in 2012.
In an exclusive interview with The Global New Light of Myanmar, Prince Luitpold, who naturally shares the same name as his ancestor, discussed his passion for quality beer, Oktoberfest’s origins and some fond memories of Myanmar.
Where it all began
So how did a single wedding transform into a global celebration of all things German?
“The wedding was used as an instrument to unify the country after the Napoleonic wars – it was a good opportunity to do so and the public were invited to come and join in the celebrations. It was a very successful party and it became bigger and bigger. A cultural exhibition was added the following year and then later, a target shooting contest as well as a horse race,” Prince Luitpold explained.
While the horses were jettisoned some time ago, target shooting remains part of local festivities in Germany and according to the prince, attracts a staggering 10,000 competitors nationwide. He assured The Global New Light of Myanmar that large quantities of beer, humans and guns is not a recipe for disaster in the particular context of Oktoberfest.
“The locals don’t get drunk – they’re very serious about the sport and stay sober during the competition. They celebrate afterwards with a few beers,” he said.
In Yangon, 5,000 litres of the prince’s own Royal Bavarian beer were supplied on tap to festival goers, who waved German beer mugs in the air and danced on tables to pop hits and the traditional beats of a Bavarian band after chowing down on a delectable German buffet featuring salads, sausages, sauerkraut and roasted pig.
However Oktoberfest isn’t just about (over) indulgence. It’s also about cultivating a sense of friendship and unity among people from all corners of the globe.
The prince summed up the spirit of the festival as follows: “No matter where you’re from, Oktoberfest is a time to celebrate happily together. It’s about having a good time and leaving the problems of the day behind – it’s a chance to drink and dance and talk.”
Beer connoisseur to boot
Prince Luitpold is a beer expert: it could even be said that brewing the stuff is in his blood. It began as a family tradition 750 years ago and he lives in a castle in Bavaria with a 150-year-old brewery, of which he is the CEO.
With great understatement, he said with a smile: “I’m basically in the drinks business. During my visit to Myanmar I met with some businesspeople that I know – I leave politics to the politicians.”
Prince Luitpold explained that Bavarian beer, which is respected worldwide, is unusual in that it is made with wheat malt rather than barley. It’s also unfiltered and has a distinct flavour. And the total absence of preservatives means that hangovers brought on by excessive consumption are less nasty than they potentially could be.
“In Bavaria we never use any preservatives in our beers. This is because we have 500-year-old laws, which are the world’s oldest actually, that prohibit it.”
Royal links to Myanmar
The Luitpold dynasty has reigned as dukes, counts and kings; including two Swedish ones. The family also produced two Roman emperors and two curiously titled ‘Anti-Kings of Bohemia.’
“There have been no more kings since the revolution of 1918,” said the prince, who added that while the family no longer has a formal role in governance, its relationship with the state remains close. The royal family is heavily involved in arts and education as well as hosting events of historical significance, such as Prince Luitpold’s annual jousting tournament, which is held at Kaltenberg Castle; one of the two castles he owns.
This year was the prince’s third visit to Myanmar. He first came four years ago and said the country has changed significantly since then. Prince Luitpold described Myanmar as “an impressive country taking fast steps forward. Yet it’s also in good shape – many beautiful old buildings remain and there are many areas where nature is pristine.”
However he added that while Myanmar will likely become a “boom country,” he also hopes that development does not outpace the momentum to preserve local traditions.
Prince Luitpold noted that Germany has a long history of trade with Myanmar – in the 1900s, for example, it was one of the country’s biggest importers of rice. His grandfather spent several weeks in Myanmar in 1903 as part of a world trip that included tête-à-têtes with the emperors of China and Japan and members of Myanmar’s royal families, although who among the latter group he met Prince Luitpold was unable to recall.
“My grandfather wrote down his memories from the trip, which I’ve found very interesting to read. He went on to become the head of Germany’s army during World War I and he had a very analytical mind, while also being interested in the arts. He said that of all the nations he visited, Myanmar had the most beautiful, happiest people. It’s interesting that things haven’t changed much since my grandfather’s visit,” he said.
The prince recalled an encounter with Myanmar people that amused his grandfather.
“There was an Englishman swimming in a river and all the locals were laughing and watching him very happily. My grandfather asked why they looked so happy. The reply? Someone had been eaten in that river by a crocodile the day before.”