Oktoberfest celebrations in Munich, Germany, have been canceled this year in response to the coronavirus pandemic. The last time the iconic beer festival was put on pause was 1945, as a result of WWII.
Munich’s Lord Mayor Dieter Reiter and Bavaria’s Minister-President Markus Söder made the announcement in a joint press conference on Tuesday, explaining that public health is their top priority.
“It hurts, it’s such a pity,” said Söder. “We have agreed that the risk is simply too high.” Every year, Oktoberfest — also known as “Wiesn” — draws millions of visitors who pack close together in beer tents and on the streets to drink German brews, eat Bavarian delicacies and dance.
This year, the festival was expected to attract around six million visitors from around the world, and take place from September 19 to October 4. This volume of people in such close proximity to each other would encourage person-to-person transmission of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19), the officials indicated.
“We have experienced that the après-ski in Ischgl, various beer festivals, for example, or even carnival events were unfortunately virus hubs,” Söder says of other public events throughout Europe. “As long as there is no vaccine, as long as there is no medicine, special care must be taken.”
Reiter assured those celebrating Oktoberfest across the world that he understood the cancellation “is a bitter pill to swallow,” and that this was one of “the hardest decisions you can make.” As Munich’s mayor, he kicks off the festival every year with the traditional tapping of the keg.
“I hope that in 2021 — no, I’m sure that we will see another Oktoberfest in 2021,” says Reiter. “Hopefully under different conditions by then. Until then, I must beg your indulgence that there was no other solution.”
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Oktoberfest boss Clemens Baumgärtner made similar statements about the cancelation, noting that he is especially sad for those who make their living at Oktoberfest, referencing employees such as festival hosts, carousel operators and food vendors.
“Nevertheless,” he said, “the Wiesn is a total work of art that you either do completely or not at all — and this work of art cannot be moved backwards or made in a smaller form.”
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He supports the decision to cancel this year’s festivities, despite it taking an emotional toll on him.
“It is the right decision because — at least for the time being — we cannot ensure that we have a Wiesn that only gives pleasure to everyone, but does not pose any danger,” Baumgärtner said.
He continued: “Let’s do everything to ensure that we can celebrate a healthy, joyful, happy and fulfilling Oktoberfest in 2021.”
As of Wednesday morning, there have been 145,694 confirmed cases of coronavirus in Germany, with 4,879 deaths.
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