When it comes to fun, people mostly stick to food and drink. Holidays are all about cooking, birthdays are filled with cakes and champagne. And Berlin's fair focusing exclusively on belly filling is paradise on earth.
Every year, more than 400,000 visitors come to see world's largest exhibition dedicated to the food, agricultural and horticultural industries: International Green Week (IGW) in Berlin. Smells and tastes from all over the planet lure consumers into the endless halls, in which inevitably your eyes will be bigger than your stomach. At least mine are. Every time.
You get to taste everything you can imagine and beyond, from French blue cheese and Turkish falafel, to Ukrainian sausages and "light" German hamburgers made with fish.
You get to drink wine from several areas in the world, schnapps, fruit juices and even milk from the happiest cows.
Food for thought
But it's when Oktoberfest en miniature bursts onto the scene that you'll lose all sense of geographic orientation.
ProBier Market (a play on the German words for "to taste," probieren, and "beer," Bier) brings more than 60 domestic and foreign breweries together. With a pavilion full of tables and chairs, music, oversized mugs, home made sausages and of course a huge selection of Germany's number one drink, this smorgasbord bears more resemblance to the annual Bavarian party than a food industry fair.
But I've put enough in my belly. Now it's time to feed my brain, and at ProBier Market I've actually learned a great deal about beer. The German Brewer's Federation has decorated the area with racks displaying no less than 1,516 beer bottles. The aim is to show visitors the enormous diversity of brews available in this country and give them the opportunity to sample some of them.
I for one had no clue that there were 1,339 breweries across Germany, producing a total of 5,000 types of beer every day. Although not Europe's biggest beer drinkers - this prize goes to the Czechs - the Germans definitely know how to produce and celebrate their (albeit unofficial) national drink.
Angels with golden wings
Though held in the German capital, visitors to the IGW can taste freshly poured brews from all continents - which don't necessarily observe Germany's traditional, ingredient-stipulating purity law.
There is cherry beer from Belgium; West-African Dju-Dju made with bananas, mangoes or passion fruit; Saigon beer from Vietnam, Kingfisher from India and hundreds of all these well-known brands, familiar even to a non-connoisseur like me. I mean, unless I'm drinking a fruit-flavored beer, I won't be able to tell the difference (and hope that all experienced beer drinkers will please forgive me.)
However, after learning at ProBier Market that beer is healthier than Aspirin, I might actually consider drinking more of the stuff. I also read on a flyer at the exhibition that this miraculous brew can make you younger, strengthen your bones, and even prevent heart disease. That's practically enough to turn us all into alcoholics.
With it relaxing properties, a glass of beer not only has a positive impact on your body, but also your mind. The flyer, though, didn't mention anything though about your state of mind after consuming five glasses or more.
Never mind, if the fifth one is brought to you by an angel, like at one of the IGW booths (see photo), you have no reason to feel guilty. This was probably what Engel Bier (literally, Angel Beer) aimed for when the family-operated brewery in Baden-Württemberg branded its product. And judging by the queues in front of the two angels selling it, tons of people at the IGW are hoping to secure a place in paradise.
But until then, visitors of the International Green Week can also get valuable advice on how to properly pour beer into a glass. You're supposed to rinse the glass with cold water, but by no means dry it with a kitchen towel. It must be air-dried, since the flavor of the drink could otherwise be compromised. Beer should be served at a temperature of about 8 degrees Celsius. And - most importantly, - cool the beer, not the glass.
Since you've seriously enriched your knowledge of beer while reading this column, you'll have good chance if you take part in IGW's beer quiz January 26. You might be awarded the "Beer Connoisseur's Diploma" and all kinds of other prizes.
As for me, I didn't try my luck. I prefer to stick to the basics: eating and drinking.