Germany’s famed Oktoberfest opens after two-year pandemic hiatus

Oktoberfest, Germany's famed beer festival which draws millions of visitors from around the world, opened Saturday in Munich after a two-year pause due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Germany's famed Oktoberfest opens after two-year pandemic hiatus
Visitors hold up their beer mugs as they celebrate during the opening of the Oktoberfest beer festival in Munich on September 17, 2022. Photo: Christof STACHE/AFP

In its 200-year history, the world’s biggest folk festival has been cancelled just 26 times, mostly due to World Wars I and II but also twice due to cholera outbreaks.

The last time the festival was held in 2019, the 6.3 million guests drank more than 7.3 million litres of German beer.

Munich mayor Didier Reiter kicked off the ceremony by opening a beer keg with a hammer blow and offering the first tankard to the head of the regional government Markus Soeder.

The festival will run until October 3 with no restrictions and no face masks will be necessary.

Oktoberfest generates about 1.2 billion euros in income. Beer occupies cult status in Germany and especially in Bavaria, where Munich is located.

Germans are among Europe’s heaviest beer drinkers with an annual average consumption of 84 litres in 2021.

On Friday, the German Brewers’ Federation DBB told the government of the numerous challenges it was facing due to the war in Ukraine, including skyrocketing energy prices and disruptions in the supply chain.

“The government must react… Without speedy state intervention and aid, hundreds of enterprises in the German beverages sector will disappear and thousands will become jobless.”

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Less beer and record visitors: The story of the 2023 Oktoberfest

Germany's Oktoberfest pulled in a record-breaking 7.2 million visitors this year, despite far less beer consumption than previous years, ending a successful three-week run on Tuesday.

Less beer and record visitors: The story of the 2023 Oktoberfest

That marks the highest number in decades, as the seven million mark was last surpassed in 1985, said Oktoberfest head Clemens Baumgärtner (CSU) in Munich on Tuesday.

At that time, the 175th anniversary of the festival counted only slightly fewer visitors, or 7.1 million.

Baumgärtner’s announcement came at the end of of the “XXL-Wiesn”, as the popular festival – extended this year by three days – was dubbed.

READ ALSO: Everything you need to know about Germany’s Oktoberfest

What other surprises did Oktoberfest 2023 bring?

This year, visitors were somewhat more restrained when it came to alcohol: around 6.5 million liters of beer were served between September 16th and closing day on Tuesday, October 3rd. Before the pandemic in 2019, the figure stood at 7.3 million liters. 

Oktoberfest 2023

Waiters and waitresses celebrate the end of the Wiesn with guests in the Hofbräu tent. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Felix Hörhager

Many ordered non-alcoholic beverages instead, Baumgärtner told DPA. More than 50 percent more were served, with water being a particularly popular choice.

The second Oktoberfest after two Covid-19 related cancellations in 2020 and 2021 was furthermore “peaceful”, according to the local fire department.

But as a whole, paramedics and doctors treated more than 7,600 patients for all sorts of mostly-minor injuries and sicknesses.

Andreas Franken, spokesman for the Munich police, said that there was a growing awareness of sexual offenses, which were increasingly being reported, he said, without giving an exact figure. He was surprised, however, by the relaxed attitude of some visitors to drugs.

Almost 370 Wiesn guests were caught with drugs. Most of them were carrying cannabis – which is on the brink of being legalised in Germany – and cocaine was found in 40 percent of them.

A Wiesn hit?

The biggest party of the year in Munich was also an ideal opportunity for celebrities like Arnold Schwarzenegger – who conducted a band performance in one of the beer tents – and FC Bayern player Harry Kane, to show off and pose for the many photographers. 

Arnold Schwarzenegger

Arnold Schwarzenegger conducting a band in one of the tents at Oktoberfest. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Felix Hörhager

The one thing missing from this year’ festivals was the “Wiesn hit”, a Schlager song which captivates the whole festival in any given year, said Baumgärtner. Such a song has to be catchy, have a good rhythm, and be simple enough so that at least the verse can be sung along with en mass – even after a beer or three.

In the past songs like “Layla” by DJ Robin & Schürze, “Cordula Grün” by Josh, “Hey Baby” by DJ Ötzi or Helene Fischer’s “Atemlos” blasted on repeat through the beer tents.

This year Baumgärtner said he would have liked to see an Italian classic from 1981 at the top: “Sarà perché ti amo” by Ricchi E Poveri.

“That would have had what it takes to be a secret Wiesn hit,” he said.

READ ALSO: Why are people in Germany so obsessed with Schlager music?