Smokers to enjoy final Oktoberfest before ban
There are few places left in Europe where you can still enjoy a cigarette and a tipple, but the huge beer tents of the 175th annual Oktoberfest starting in Munich this Saturday are one of them.
But this is the last time. When the first barrel of beer is ceremoniously tapped in the Bavarian capital next year, the ashtrays will be gone and nicotine lovers will have to nip outside.
And the rules are such that if you do leave one of the 15 tents, whether it be for a ciggie or just to have a break from the jolly oompah music - you'll have to queue to get back in again.
After years of foot-dragging, the last of Germany's 16 states made lighting up in bars and restaurants largely illegal from July 1, spelling the end of the country's status as one of Europe's last smoker's havens. But the new anti-tobacco laws have met with strong popular resistance and have been challenged by restaurant and pub owners in courts around the country, where nearly one in three adults smoke.
Loopholes to the ban remain, and the Oktoberfest, attracting some six million international visitors who guzzle over six million litres (10.5 million pints) of beer each year, is one of them.
Bavaria's conservative Christian Social Union (CSU) state premier Günther Beckstein, perhaps with half an eye on state elections on September 28, has said that he will not send police around the tents to regulate the smoking ban.
There's no way the party can lose the election, but it faces the very real prospect of scoring less than 50 percent of the vote - and for the first time since the 1960s.
Beckstein already found himself in hot water for saying this week that driving home after two huge Maß litre-mug (three and half pints) of beer at the Oktoberfest was fine, and he does not want to risk offending smokers too.
But 2009 will be smoke-free and already this year there will be one sign of the new healthy Oktoberfest to come - the women that normally walk around the tents selling cigarettes from trays will be gone.
"This is a small contribution to healthier air in the tents," Toni Roiderer, a spokesman for the beer vendors at the festival, says in all seriousness.
Already the world's largest beer festival has moved with the times, last year installing solar panels, low-energy light bulbs and banning disposable plates and cups in an effort to go green.
The festival, which runs until October 5 this year, began in October 1810 to celebrate the marriage of the prince of Bavaria, the future King Ludwig I, to Princess Therese of Saxony-Hildburghausen.
The festivities began on October 12 and ended on October 17 with a horse race, and the locals enjoyed themselves so much that it became an annual event. In later years it started in September to take advantage of warmer weather, and has been cancelled only 24 times due to cholera or war.
Last year it attracted 6.2 million visitors, 300,000 fewer than in 2006. But those who went drank more beer - sales rose 10 percent to 6.7 million litres. Beers this year cost between €7.80 and €8.30 ($11.25 - $12.00) per litre, depending which tent you are in, according to organizers.