Argentine Oktoberfest Puts First Things First--Beer, Dancing, Beer, Food, Beer, Fun

REUTERS

Shouts of prost and salud rang through the mountain village as Spanish-speaking men in lederhosen and Tirolean hats knocked back steins of beer at the "Fiesta de la Cerveza," the Southern Hemisphere's Oktoberfest.

At Argentina's annual "fiesta of beer" Latin warmth mixes with European tradition during the first two weekends of October. The celebration has become a tradition in Villa General Belgrano, a village nestling in the Cordoba hills 380 miles northwest of Buenos Aires.

Although celebrated in flower-scented spring mountain air instead of the cool autumn of Munich, the Argentines maintain the basics of Oktoberfest--plentiful food, drink and fun.

The all-important beer, a lighter version of traditional German lager, flows from hundreds of kegs while revelers waltz, two-step, salsa and samba to street bands.

Soon after Villa General Belgrano was founded in 1932, local families began holding an annual party in remembrance of the old country. Even today, 70% of the 5,000 residents trace their origins to central Europe.

With the arrival of more than 100 German soldiers interned there after Germany's Graff Spee battleship was sunk by the British in the River Plate during World War II, the annual festivities won acclaim and grew in size. In 1964 they were recognized as the first provincial Fiesta de la Cerveza.

The mix of cultures and traditions adds to the charm as party-goers chatter and sing in a mix of German and Spanish while munching huge portions of barbecued beef washed down by mug after mug of beer.

Now a national celebration that grows each year, organizers calculated this year's attendance at a record 120,000--about 50% more than just a year ago.

Beer consumption--though a far cry from the 5 million liters downed by 5.7 million visitors in Munich's Oktoberfest grounds last year--was a healthy 60,000 liters during five days.

Festivals are no small matter for Villa General Belgrano, according to its mayor, Ramon Hector Graneros.

"We have four annual festivals, and the rest of the year is dedicated to preparations and improvements for the next year's events," he said.

Although the village and the fiesta have grown, the old spirit remains intact, at least according to Mabel de Hoss, elected in 1964 as the first "Beer Queen."

"Of course things have changed," she said. "When it began, the Fiesta was just a party between families. The event is on a much bigger scale now, and requires a lot more planning. But basically it's the same--everyone comes together to have fun, dance and drink a lot of beer."

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