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Getting through a smoke-free Oktoberfest

The Local · 28 Sep 2010, 12:20

Published: 28 Sep 2010 12:20 GMT+02:00

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"Complete crap!" the blotchy-faced man shouted, offering me a cigarette. He was very animated. It was maybe the most energy his lungs had pumped out in a while. Complete crap!" he said again, in case I might have mistaken his stance on the smoking ban the first time. The translation of his colourful German expression doesn't quite capture the passion in his yellow eyes. But there was a rueful glance in them too.

Bavaria is a fairly conservative place, and it's safe to say that some Bavarians at this year's Oktoberfest have not taken to the new rule well. Smoking is still allowed outside and in the beer gardens, but not in any of the tents, and there are no smoking rooms.

What many see as the natural association between cigarettes and beer is one thing, but at the Oktoberfest, many think of cigars and cigarillos as part of the custom too. After all, the Oktoberfest is all about excessive indulgence. You fill yourself with alcohol, sugar, and animal grease: tobacco is just another poison to be added to the list.

Unpopular, but effective

The smoking ban was actually not meant to happen this year. The ban on smoking in all public buildings, no exceptions, came into force in Bavaria at the beginning of August, following a referendum in July, but then an amnesty was granted for the Oktoberfest until next year. Then beer tent landlords decided to forego the amnesty and try out the ban this year anyway, to see if it worked.

And it has more or less worked.

"The smoking ban is being enforced very effectively," Munich chief of police Wilhelm Schmidbauer announced proudly in the first week.

It is certainly true that you don't see any smokers inside. The revellers have tended to police each other, and if a smoker proves stubborn, security escorts him firmly to the door. The smokers might be grumbling, but they are obedient.

For my blotchy-faced friend, this obedience itself was despicable.

"That's what's wrong with Germany!" he said, "We're always bowing down to everything! As soon as someone makes a new rule. Look at the French – the EU tells Sarkozy to stop getting rid of the Roma, but does he listen? No! He just does what he wants."

I decided to leave before we strayed into murkier territory.

It would be a mistake to think that the referendum has killed Bavaria's libertarian streak – a random sample of Oktoberfest-goers uncovers similarly vehement voices.

"For 200 years no-one cared, and now all of a sudden we have to ban it. And we just do what we're told. It's worse than communist East Germany," one woman told me angrily, while her husband stood by, morosely sucking on a cigarillo. "Only 30 percent of people voted, you know. The smokers weren't properly informed and didn't even realize what was happening."

Ahmed, a security guard outside the Löwenbräu tent, had little sympathy. "It's their own fault," he said. "They should have voted when they had the chance. Now they're all complaining when there's nothing they can do."

Ahmed was also not particularly convinced that the ban was really being respected.

"It's alright at the moment, because the weather is good and the tent is not that full. But if it starts raining, and we have to shut the doors because it's overcrowded inside, and then people come outside to smoke and want to get back in. Then there'll be trouble."

In practice, security often ignores the odd smoker, particularly if it is getting later in the evening and no-one is complaining.

Who's to blame for the ban?

Story continues below…

All this is the fault of Sebastian Frankenberger, a 29-year-old who started the citizen's initiative that led to the Bavarian referendum and therefore the ban. If it hadn't been for him, Bavaria may well have settled on a compromise, like Germany's other states have, allowing smoking in small bars or designated rooms. Frankenberger, with his boyish face and long, blow-dried heavy metal hair, has become, in Bavaria, the instant personification of what many see as society's tendency towards more restrictive regulations.

He has already received plenty of death-threats, and in a slightly inflammatory experiment, Bavaria's state TV channel Bayerischer Rundfunk decided to film Frankenberger walk through the Oktoberfest. The results were quite shocking. As he walked through the crowd, armed with pepper-spray, a number of lederhosen-clad men flung abuse in his direction, swearing and thrusting middle-fingers in his face.

But then, there were also plenty who congratulated him, and in the Oktoberfest there is as much approval, or at least indifference, as there is red-faced abuse. Many smokers are quite happy to step outside for the sake of clearer air in the tents, and many Oktoberfest regulars note with approval the absence of a dense fog mingling with the ceiling decorations. But it is, everyone agrees, a big change.

Ben Knight (news@thelocal.de)

Munich's Oktoberfest runs from September 18 until October 4 this year. A special historical area offering old carousels, special beer and other attractions will open one day earlier for the 200th anniversary celebrations.

Sponsored link: Travelling to Oktoberfest? Get there with Deutsche Bahn.

The Local (news@thelocal.de)

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Your comments about this article

14:37 September 28, 2010 by bugger
"Who's to blame for the ban?" Quality neutral reporting there.
14:45 September 28, 2010 by Deutschguy
In the US, even the smokers admit that they like bars and restaurants that are non-smoking. I have a right to clean air, when I go into a bar or restaurant. And so do all the kids, who have no choice but to go along with their parents.
15:39 September 28, 2010 by raandy
A change long over due...
09:27 September 29, 2010 by DoubleDTown
Bravo Bavaria. I wish there'd been a smoking ban when I visited in 2005. For that matter, I wish Saxony would go for a ban. The "compromise" of allowing smoking in "small bars" and "separate rooms" means essentially that there is no smoking ban. Even police officers that I know don't exactly know where it is allowed or where it is not, primarily I suspect because they don't care and have not made much mental effort to inform themselves. As to the lady that says "nobody cared for 200 years", she's wrong. As to her whacky comment that it's "worse than communist East Germany," yikes, what can I say? Res ipsa locquitor.
16:11 September 29, 2010 by Schwack
"For 200 years no-one cared..."

I don't know about the 197 years prior to my first visit to Oktoberfest but I (and almost all of my friends) certainly cared at the last 2!
23:22 September 29, 2010 by JohnPaul44
Is any mention of the year 1933 banned on this forum?
17:38 October 1, 2010 by gtaglia
Smoking bans are a violation of the rights of property owners, who have a right to decide what should or should not be allowed in their own establishment. This is a form of tyranny by the majority of voters over both the business owners, who have lost control over their property and the smokers, who now have no place to go. Given freedom from this sort of government coercion, various business owners would either allow or prohibit smoking and everyone would have a place to go. It is not the right of government, with or without a majority vote, to set policy for a privately owned business. If you don't like the policy (either smoking or non-smoking), you don't have to spend your money there or work there; if there is freedom of choice, you can go where the policy is more to your liking.
20:12 October 2, 2010 by Joshontour
@gtag hear hear
00:32 October 3, 2010 by willowsdad
Gtaglia: exactly. That's why this American smoker (are you listening, Deutshcguy?) comes to Germany for his vacations. But not to Bavaria anymore and not to any other Bundesland that follows their example.

That being said, the security guard is right that the smokers who didn't get out and vote against the ban have no one but themsleves to blame.

"Sebastian Frankenberger": A real person? Sound like a bunch of TV scriptwriters tried their best to come up with a name that says "effete DB".
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