Oktoberfest ‘very unlikely’ to take place in 2021, says Munich’s mayor

Oktoberfest, the world's largest festival held annually in Munich, is looking increasingly unlikely to take place for the second year in a row, according to local politicians and organisers.

Oktoberfest 'very unlikely' to take place in 2021, says Munich’s mayor
Archive photo shows an Oktobestfest waitress holding a typically large number of beer mugs. Photo: DPA

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.

READ ALSO: Germany’s Oktoberfest 2020 cancelled over coronavirus pandemic

“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.

‘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.

READ ALSO: Oktoberfest in numbers: A look inside Germany’s multi-billion business

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Is the pandemic over in Germany?

As much of Germany lifts - or prepares to lift - the last remaining Covid-19 measures, intensive care units say Covid-19 admissions are no longer straining the system.

Is the pandemic over in Germany?

Despite a difficult winter of respiratory illnesses, intensive care units in Germany say Covid-19 admissions have almost halved. The number of cases having to be treated in the ICU has gone down to 800 from 1,500 at the beginning of this month.

“Corona is no longer a problem in intensive care units,” Gernot Marx, Vice President of the German Interdisciplinary Association for Intensive Care and Emergency Medicine, told the German Editorial Network. “A the moment, we don’t have to think every day about how to still ensure the care of patients, but how to actually run a service that can help.”

Marx said the drop has allowed them to catch up on many postponed surgeries.

The number of sick employees in hospitals is also falling, helping to relieve the pressure on personnel.

The easing pressure on hospitals correlates with the assessment of prominent virologist and head of the Virology department at Berlin’s Charite – Christian Drosten – who said in December that the pandemic was close to ending, with the winter wave being an endemic one.

German federal and state governments are now in the midst of lifting the last of the country’s pandemic-related restrictions. Free Covid-19 antigen tests for most people, with exceptions for medical personnel, recently ended.

READ ALSO: Free Covid-19 tests end in Germany

Six federal states – Bavaria, Baden-Württemberg, Hessen, Thuringia, Lower Saxony, and Schleswig-Holstein – have ended mandatory isolation periods for people who test positive for Covid-19.

Bavaria, Saxony-Anhalt, and Schleswig-Holstein have ended the requirement to wear FFP2 masks on public transport, while Berlin, Brandenburg, Saxony, Thuringia, and Mecklenburg-West Pomerania will follow suit on February 2nd.

At that time, the federal government will also drop its requirement for masks to be worn on long-distance trains. Labour Minister Hubertus Heil says that’s when he also intends to exempt workplaces – apart from medical locations – from a mask requirement.

READ ALSO: Germany to drop mask mandate in trains and buses from February 2nd

Bavaria and Baden-Württemberg will also end the requirement for patients to wear a mask in doctor’s offices. That’s a requirement that, so far, will stay in place everywhere else. Federal Health Minister Karl Lauterbach has also said that he thinks this requirement should remain. 

But some public health insurers and general practitioners are calling for a nationwide end to the obligation for wearing masks in doctor’s offices.

“The pandemic situation is over,” National Association of Statutory Health Physicians (KBV) Chair Andreas Gassen told the RND network. “High-risk patients aren’t treated in all practices. It should generally be left up to medical colleagues to decide whether they want to require masks in their practices.”