Yes you read it right – a Korean Oktoberfest. We spent the weekend enjoying German beer and bratwursts on Namhae Island off the south coast of Korea
Namhae Island, or ‘treasure island,’ as Koreans like to call it, is the third largest island in Korea with a population of around 50,000 people. Famous for its winding coastal roads, breathtaking views and emerald waters, but we were visiting to experience something else: Oktoberfest.
The festival takes place every year at the beginning of October, and this year it fell on a cheeky three-day weekend, making the five hour bus journey from Cheongju to Namhae Island seem more worthwhile.
I know what you’re thinking – why is there an Oktoberfest in Korea? A little background for you..
In the 1960s and 1970s, thousands of Koreans moved to Germany to find work. Around ten years ago, those Koreans who had settled in Germany were offered cheap land in Namhae in an attempt to persuade them back to the small island and help recover it’s decreasing population. Those who bought the land had to build ‘german style’ houses, which has led to the touristy (and somewhat tacky I have to admit) German village.
The festival was running from Saturday through to Monday boasting a large selection of German beers and wines. We arrived around 15:00pm on the Saturday, and I was immediately surprised by the amount of Koreans wandering around.
We’d assumed the festival would be overrun by fellow westerners, how naive of us; if there’s one thing we’ve learnt from the past eighteen months – Koreans love beer.
We followed the crowds uphill on the cobbled road that ran through the middle of the village, either side were cafes and restaurants offering booze, bratwursts and bands playing live music (we made it our duty to try and stop at each bar for a drink of course.)
It was mainly German beer served at the festival – a welcome change to Korean beers such as Hite and Cass which we have become so accustomed to drinking whilst living in Korea.
Some of the names on offer were Paulaner, Maisels Weisse, Kaiserdom and Erdinger costing around 5,000 won for a beer. We also enjoyed a decent selection of craft ales and hot gluehwein.
Our beer crawl led us to the top of the village where we quite literally stumbled across the ‘Deutscher Platz,’ what appeared to be the hub of the festival. This area was decorated with german flags, bunting and long tables placed before a large stage.
An american DJ hit the stage around 20:30pm, entertaining the somewhat tipsy crowd. The atmosphere was great, everybody was singing and dancing – it felt more like an outdoor nightclub than a beer festival.
The DJ finished around 22:00pm, signalling closing time to the beer vendors and bars. I don’t think anybody was quite ready to go home, but I guess the festival needed to finish at a reasonable time for those who lived in the village.
Keep an eye on Visit Korea for dates and information on next year’s Oktoberfest.
Rating: 8/10: As you can see, we had a great time at the Oktoberfest and I’d definitely recommend it. Considering the size and population of Namhae Island, the festival was busy and there was a great atmosphere with people visiting from across the country. We were impressed with the selection of German beers and food available and the entertainment provided throughout the day and evening. The only downside is that the island is not particularly accessible, especially without a car and beware that taxi fares are more expensive in Namhae than other areas in Korea.
Where to stay: There are a number of pensions in the German village; expect to pay more for these and beware that they are often booked up months in advance by group tours heading to the festival. We stayed in a pension near Sangju Beach, which cost 50,000 won per night between the four of us – bargain! The taxi journey from Sangju beach to the German village took around twenty minutes and set us back 20,000 won.
How to get there: There is an express bus from Seoul to Namhae Island. Another option is to travel to the city of Jinju which is accessible from many cities, and then get on one of the frequent buses from Jinju to Namhae Island which takes around 75 minutes.