MY favourite historical story about Glasgow Green involved a Herald editor, one Samuel Hunter, who, showing that even editors need hobbies, was Colonel of the Glasgow Corps of Gentlemen Sharpshooters, which would parade on the Green.
One day while putting the chaps through their paces, the 18-stone Samuel took a tumble from his mount, which brought a crowd of sympathetic onlookers. Showing a level of sang-froid that editors do not always manage in a crisis, Samuel staggered to his feet and told them: "Never mind, I was coming off anyway."
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There was an argument over at Glasgow Green this month which fortunately did not require a corps of sharpshooters, gentlemanly or otherwise, to separate the warring factions. The argument, as many arguments are in Glasgow, was over beer, but not the simplistic one of "Did you touch my pint?" It was over who had the more authentic Oktoberfest, echoing the gigantic Oktoberfest celebration in Munich, Germany. The first Oktoberfest was held over 200 years ago to mark the marriage of Bavarian Crown Prince Ludwig, and is now a gigantic social event with a massive fun fair, and huge tents sponsored by individual breweries where bands play, food is served, and litres of lager are dispensed by waitresses in traditional dirndl dresses who, if one were picky, leave far too large a head on the beers.
I was fortunate to have a mate who worked for an electronics company in Greenock which transferred him to Munich and I wisely travelled to see him when the Oktoberfest was on, which confusingly takes place mostly in September. I remember a lot of leiderhosen-wearing locals taking it very seriously, word-perfect singing to the beer songs, moving in unison on their benches to the music, and my memory being a bit hazy by the end of the evening, a game I think called "fingerhakeln" where a chap would lock his beefy middle finger with that of the drinker opposite and see who could pull the other over the table. I also learned they had a separate word, noagerlzuzla, for the impoverished alkies who would quietly pick up discarded steins in order to drain the dregs. Seen one or two of them in crowded pubs in Glasgow over the years, but they were usually called something far less attractive than noagerlzuzla.
So what has this to do with Glasgow Green, you may ask. Well at the edge of the Green is the old Templeton's carpet factory of Doge's Palace fame, which has a micro-brewery in the basement and a Bavarian-style bar and restaurant called West, run by indominatable Bavarian Petra Wetzel, who came to Glasgow as a student, and never really left. Her beer is made to the German Reinheitsgebot law which does not allow any chemicals in the brew, only water, malt, hops and yeast. Her most famous brand is St Mungo, which truly is a thing of beauty. Glasgow's patron saint St Mungo and his monks actually made beer nearby, which explains the name.
Petra's Oktoberfest at West is a celebration of Bavarian food, beer and music where a family of all generations can come together - like a family Christmas but with no presents, more singing and more beer. But not too much beer. Savouring and enjoying beer is encouraged. Drinking it until you can barely walk is not.
Which takes us a hundred yards across Glasgow Green from West to a vast blue and yellow striped tent, set up temporarily for two weekends where another Oktoberfest was held with no connection to West. This one sold beer at one-and-a-half litres a time in huge plastic glasses, and where the food was more limited. The crowd was up to 2000 a night and, while there was some German music, it was more of a Glasgow singalong with many a British hit thrown in.
Petra was not a fan. I thought she would say it was too ersatz. But she's been in Glasgow too long to use such a word. "It was naff," she tells me. "It was just a big circus tent. You had to pay to get in, had overpriced beer, and was just a bad stereotype of what people think Oktoberfest is about.
"I was told to put on extra security at West as people would be wandering about intoxicated from the circus tent. Why would anyone give them permission for that?"
What it really touches upon is stereotypes. Petra believes the big tent was a stereotype of Oktoberfest, concentrating on excessive drinking, with the beer being pumped into the tent from a tanker parked at the back which was driven over from Germany. As she says: "I'm German. I battle stereotypes all the time with people saying that as a German I don't have a sense of humour. And it really rattles my cage when I go back to Germany and see adverts where they refer to Scottish prices, as Scots are seen as tightfisted."
Rattles my cage ... she really has been in Scotland for a long while.
It reminds me of Hogmanay when traditionalists think of a time when neighbours call in on neighbours with a bottle of whisky for a laugh and a song, but where visitors to Scotland see it as a time to wear tartan hats with fake ginger hair sticking out and throw up in the street. Which is the real Hogmanay?
And in truth, on a cold wet October night in Glasgow a lot of folk were enjoying themselves having a singlaong in a tent on Glasgow Green. Is that so bad even if the only German they saw was the tanker driver?
Glasgow Green has always been a place of rough humour and raw entertainment dating back to the penny geggies - the threadbare travelling theatres of the 19th century. So perhaps the striped circus tent is an echo of that. But I'd rather have a pint of St Mungo.
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