We decided to drive, visiting Antwerp on the way. We were only able to spend about three hours in Antwerp so I'll reserve my opinions about the city until I have a chance to see more of it. Guidebooks indicated that the train station is one of the must-sees, so we made that a priority. It was very impressive!
The drive from Antwerp to Essen was 25 minutes. Once we arrived, I must admit that the outside of the building was unremarkable. It was a school or community gym adorned by a simple banner that read 'Heuvelhal.'
Inside was entirely different. We stepped into an expansive room filled with hundreds of people. After we had a moment to take it all in, we purchased our souvenir tasting glasses and some tokens. Each sample of beer filled the entire glass and most cost only one token (1.50 Euro). Lines weren't long and the crowd was well-behaved.
This event was organized by O.B.E.R. (Objective Beer tasters Essen Region) and I would venture to say that at least half of the attendees took the task of tasting very seriously. The other half were just hoping to stumble back to the train station still standing.
The sheer selection of beers was staggering. Over 150 Belgian varieties were at our fingertips to try. We weren't the only people to represent America. We met one person from Colorado and a group from South Carolina was rumored to be in attendance. Later in the evening we shared a table with a Dutchman, an Irishwoman, and an Englishwoman.
Several young Dutchmen crowded around our table for much of the evening in the hopes of chatting up my sister. We took the opportunity to ask them what they really think of Americans. Most of them were kind. They said things like, "Oh, I like Americans. I went to San Diego once and it was fun." One of them told us he learned to speak English so well because he watched Friends when he was younger. Another explained the importance of soccer by comparing it to college football.
These were all interesting topics but I am also curious about negative impressions of us. Only one of them was completely candid. He said, "I don't like Americans. They are self-centered. They think the problems of the rest of the world don't really affect them so they choose to remain ignorant to everything other than what's right in front of them."
It was sort of eye-opening to hear such an unguarded statement about my own country. By the end of our conversation, he thankfully concluded that he didn't think all Americans are self-centered.
I know it isn't my role to change what someone may believe about the people of an entire country but it's nice to see that despite our differences and places of origin, we can still express our opinions and have a nice conversation. Or maybe that's just the beer talking.
At any rate, the beer festival was a complete success! It was a great occasion to try some unique, amazing beers and an even better opportunity to meet some very interesting people.