Despite the pandemic, war and energy crisis, the Oktoberfest in Munich begins on Saturday – without any restrictions. Some can’t believe it, others can’t wait
This is the first time in three years: This Saturday, Munich’s Mayor Dieter Reiter (SPD) will tap the first keg on the Theresienwiese at 12 noon sharp, probably with two casual taps, pour a beer and call out: “O’zapft is, Here’s to a peaceful Oktoberfest in 2022.” After the cancellations in 2020 and 2021 due to Corona, it’s Oktoberfest again, the mother of all festivals.
This 187th Wiesn is under a strange star – with the still smoldering Corona crisis, the war in Ukraine, the gas and electricity shortages. The fact that it is taking place is “a good signal, especially in difficult times,” said Bavaria’s Prime Minister Markus Söder (CSU) back in May at the city’s pro-decision. The festival stands for “joie de vivre and cosmopolitanism”. But it should also be celebrated with a certain Titanic feeling.
Nothing is more speculated about in Munich than about how this Oktoberfest will be: Are there fewer visitors than the usual 5.7 to 6.7 million in the 17 days? Or even more because people really want to let it rip now? And what about Corona? The city had a legal choice: to hold the festival in its entirety and without any restrictions – or not at all. Vaccination certificates at the entrances or mandatory rapid tests had been discussed – but none of this would have been enforceable. So Reiter is now appealing to people’s personal responsibility and also let it be known that he won’t be on the Theresienwiese very often this year. His predecessor, the popular Christian Ude (SPD), announced that he and his wife would not go at all because they belonged to the “high-risk group” due to their age (74 and 83 years).
Must have some fun
Christian Schottenhamel, meanwhile, is optimistic about the Wiesn days. “Especially with all the problems, people want to be distracted,” says the landlord of the big festival tent of the same name and board member of the Munich gastro association Dehoga in an interview with FR. Reservations in the tents have been picking up speed for a few days.
The occupancy rates in the hotels are now “very positive”. Many Americans would come for whom Germany is now a “cheap travel destination” due to the shift in the exchange rate. A look at the accommodation portal booking.com this week also shows that there are still enough free hotel rooms in Munich. For the middle weekend from September 23rd to 25th, the so-called Italian weekend, there are double rooms for 190 to 220 euros per night – in Wiesn times before Corona, that would have been an absolute bargain.
The Oktoberfest is the largest folk festival in the world. This year, 487 businesses were approved for the 42-hectare Theresienwiese, most of them from the catering trade and the fair trade.
There are a total of 120,000 seats in the 17 festival halls. In 2022, a beer liter will cost between 12.60 and 13.80 euros, almost 16 percent more than at the last Wiesn in 2019. 7.3 million liter beers were served there, 870,000 half chickens were sold and 124 oxen were eaten. Total turnover of the festival: 1.2 billion euros.
The restaurateur Schottenhamel sees the festival in a good position when it comes to the staff. Until a few weeks ago, it was still difficult to recruit waiters, bar waiters or dishwashers. “But now we have the employees, and we’ve also built in a buffer.” The risk of corona is manageable, says the landlord – even in the gaudy large tents, where up to 10,000 people sit or stand close together, eat, drink, sing and hug. Schottenhamel refers to the previous Bavarian folk festivals in Straubing and Rosenheim – the Gäuboden and Herbstfest: “There were no superspreader events there.” The hospitals were not overloaded, but the incidences in both places increased drastically after the festivals, Straubing was suddenly at the top nationwide with a value of 737.
The city and the restaurateurs also do not want to see the high energy consumption of the festival in times of shortage as a point of criticism. According to the Wiesn press office, the Oktoberfest consumes four gigawatt hours of electricity and two of gas. These are only 0.6 and 0.1 per thousand of the city’s total consumption per year. Christian Schottenhamel has a practical example: 150 chickens could be roasted in a modern grill in a commercial kitchen with the energy that four private households needed for two chickens each in the oven.
If you want Layla, you get Layla
And what about the much-discussed and therefore so popular song about the madam Layla – “she is prettier, younger, hornier”? “I found that a bit stupid,” says Christian Schottenhamel to the debate. Every host can decide for himself what is played. “And if people want Layla, they’ll get it.”
After 25 Oktoberfests, Wolfgang Köbele and his popular band “Münchner Zwietracht” will not be at the Wiesn or in the Marstall tent this time. During this time, he decided to play at other smaller folk festivals, from Berlin to Braunschweig to Switzerland. “This Wiesn wobbles in the back and in the front,” he says in an interview. “Everyone will go there with a bad conscience.” If 20 people were infected at a concert with 2000 visitors, it wouldn’t be very noticeable. But with 600,000 people on peak days at the Wiesn, that’s 6,000. “And that’s new every day. All of that doesn’t fit, this Wiesn doesn’t fit at the time.