By Madeline Chambers
BERLIN (Reuters) – Munich’s Oktoberfest, the world’s largest popular festival, where revellers from all over the globe swig beer by the litre and sing along to oompah bands, fell victim on Tuesday to the coronavirus pandemic.
Six million people flock to the Bavarian capital every year for the two-week festivities, held in packed tents with long wooden tables and benches where social distancing to avoid contagion would be both lamentable and impossible.
The event, scheduled this year for Sept. 19-Oct. 4, brings in 1 billion euros ($1.1 billion) for the city.
“This is not a normal year and it is unfortunately a year without the Oktoberfest,” said Markus Soeder, premier of the southern German state, announcing a decision that had been widely expected. “It hurts. It is a huge shame.”
Some parts of Germany have started to relax lockdown measures introduced last month to slow the spread of the virus, but big events are banned until Aug. 31. Chancellor Angela Merkel has urged Germans to stay disciplined to avoid a relapse after some slowing of the infection rate.
As of Tuesday, Germany had registered 143,457 cases of coronavirus, of whom 4,598 had died.
Several states are requiring shoppers and people on public transport to wear face masks as additional protection. Berlin on Tuesday made masks compulsory on public transport from April 27.
NOT A NORMAL SUMMER
Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said this would not be a normal summer holiday year, either. Although it was too early to say what would happen to travel, beaches and holiday accommodation would not be packed as usual, he said.
Germany’s government is trying to mitigate the effects of the shutdown on Europe’s biggest economy with a range of measures, including a 750 billion stimulus package, and hopes consumer demand will return to help it out of a sharp recession.
Visitors to the Oktoberfest consume more than 7 million litres of beer, 100 oxen, half a million chickens and more than 140,000 pairs of sausages each year.
Munich mayor Dieter Reiter said he was sorry to disappoint the 2 million people who travel from abroad for the festival, and said it was also a blow to Bavarians, who don traditional lederhosen and dirndls – leather shorts and low-cut embroidered dresses – for a highlight of their year.
Munich pastor Rainer Maria Schiessler told the KNA Catholic news agency the festival had been cancelled twice in the 19th century due to cholera epidemics, and also during World War Two.
“Munich will survive,” he said.
The festivities go back to 1810, when the first Oktoberfest was held in honour of Bavarian Crown Prince Ludwig’s marriage.
These days the festivities tend to turn rowdy in the evenings and many foreign tourists can’t stomach the large quantities of specially brewed beer, but it remains as popular as ever.
“We hope we can make up for this next year, with even more passion and joy,” Reiter said.
(Reporting by Madeline Chambers; Editing by Michelle Martin and Kevin Liffey)