COVID-19 deals another crushing blow to Europe’s tourism sector: Oktoberfest is canceled this year

May 3, 2021, 4:20 PM UTC

Beer lovers everywhere, put away your lederhosen and dirndls. Munich’s Oktoberfest will shut its doors at the famed Wiesn fairgrounds once more. 

The COVID-19 outbreak has forced Bavaria to call off its signature folk festival for only the 26th time in its over 200-year history. For the second straight year, there will be no boisterous crowds frolicking under huge tents while sturdy waitresses carry a dozen liter-size mugs topped off with traditional Helles (“pale”) lager.

“We have to bite the bullet,” a downtrodden Dieter Reiter, lord mayor of Munich, told reporters on Monday, ruling out the idea of an Oktoberfest operated under strict hygienic guidelines favoring the vaccinated. 

“A festival is not a festival if not everyone who wants to attend can. As far as I’m concerned, Oktoberfest has to be an environment where people feel safe to celebrate freely,” he explained.

The two-week–long event was originally scheduled to begin with the celebratory first keg tapped by the lord mayor himself at the traditional Schottenhamel tent on Sept. 18. 

For the city and its beleaguered hospitality industry, the cancellation means €1.2 billion ($1.45 billion) in lost revenue.  

But Bavarian Premier Markus Söder said the region could not risk keeping Oktoberfest open to the masses.


“It’s probably Bavaria’s biggest calling card, with millions of guests from around the world that visit us,” he told reporters. “Imagine there was another wave and it turned out to be a superspreader; it would damage the brand for all time. And that, we don’t want.”

Not far from Munich, the Austrian alps resort of Ischgl became synonymous with the outbreak of the novel coronavirus last year thanks to après-ski bars where boisterous singing in crowded conditions helped spread the pandemic to Germany.

The bitter decision underscores yet again the divergence between America’s economic boom, following its success in inoculating its population against the virus, and the failure of Europe to keep up.

Last week, Germany reported a flash estimate that the economy contracted at a rate of 1.7% quarter on quarter. By comparison, the U.S. reported growth of 6.4%, although the figures are not directly comparable as American GDP estimates are annualized. 

Munich Mayor Reiter apologized to the fair’s fans across the world, acknowledging he was wrong to predict last April that the Oktoberfest would return this year, and adding he hoped this was the last time the coronavirus precluded the annual event. 

“I certainly didn’t think that we would still live a year and a half later in the midst of a pandemic,” he said. “But I’m convinced that Wiesn feeling will return as soon as we are allowed to celebrate.”

Germany is not alone. The Spanish city of Pamplona was forced last week to call off the San Fermín festival, which attracts thrill-seekers from around the world to run with the bulls through the streets of Pamplona’s historical district. Earlier in the year, Venice canceled Carnival festivities.

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