The spokesman for Oktoberfest, Peter Inselkammer, estimated the chances at “fifty-fifty” at the beginning of April. But according to Munich’s mayor Dieter Reiter, the cancellation of the Oktoberfest this year is looking increasingly likely.
Last year, Reiter assumed without doubt that Oktoberfest would be back in 2021, the Social Democratic (SPD) politician told the Bild newspaper.
But now “the hope is getting weaker from week to week, if I am honest,” Reiter said.
In 2020 Oktoberfest was cancelled because of the coronavirus crisis and a ban on large events. But in 2021, many were hopeful that the beer would be flowing again during the three-week festival, which starts each year in mid-September.
“As of today, it could not take place according to the current regulations,” Reiter stated, pointing out that the pandemic does not appear to be subsiding. “And that’s why it’s hard at the moment to imagine that the world’s largest folk festival can take place.”
Last year wasn’t the first time that the more than 200-year-old festival was cancelled. Due to cholera, Oktoberfest was also axed in 1854 and 1873. And during wartime, the beer festival did not go ahead. It was also put on pause during hyperinflation in 1923.
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‘People want to come’
The approval or cancellation of the festival is likely to be hotly debated politically in the coming weeks, especially as Germany will be holding its national elections just over a week after the festival’s planned start on September 18th.
According to the Wiesnwirte festival organisers, reservation requests are already piling up at the festival tents.
“People want to come,” Inselkammer had said a few weeks ago. The vast majority of regulars have already secured their places, he added. “Only very few have canceled.”
Most hotel reservations have come from guests from Munich and the region, but there are also inquiries from abroad. Currently hotels in Germany are only accepting guests travelling for business or emergency reasons.
Bavaria’s state premier Markus Söder (CSU), like Reiter, has already expressed scepticism, but said he was not ready to reach a final decision.
Reiter told Bild that he and Söder would come to a conclusion in May, not just about Oktoberfest but for all major folk festivals in Bavaria.
“There is a high probability that such festivals cannot be justified due to (infection protection) reasons.”
What about an ‘Oktoberfest light’?
In normal years, around six million visitors come to Oktoberfest during the two festival weeks. They drink, sing and celebrate in the tents in a very confined space.
Without effective vaccination protection, the festival would have all the prerequisites for an international superspreader event, said Reiter.
According to festival organisers, early June is the latest time to cancel or commit to Oktoberfest. “Then we would have to commission the set-up companies,” says Inselkammer.
He also spoke out against a “Wiesn light”, referring to the giant fairgrounds where the festival usually takes place.
“A slimmed-down version is not a Wiesn. We don’t want that,” he said. “With masks, limited seating and spacing in the tent: that makes no economic sense – and it’s not a Wiesn the way we love and want it. It’s no fun.”
For the organisers, another cancellation would cost a lot of money. The economic value of the world’s largest folk festival is €1.2 to 1.3 billion.