Pandemic dampens Germany's Oktoberfest

The scaled-back Oktoberfest will still be marked by the traditional breaking open of beer barrels.
The scaled-back Oktoberfest will still be marked by the traditional breaking open of beer barrels.

Diehard fans of the cancelled Oktoberfest beer festival are preparing to hold a scaled-down version of the event spread out across pubs in the southern German city of Munich.

Fifty-four city landlords have issued invitations to a "pub Wiesn" - using the local name for the festival - after hearing that many revellers were planning in any case to drink on the Theresienwiese, an open space where the Oktoberfest is usually held. The pub event will run until October 4.

At noon on Saturday, the scaled-back event will still be marked by the traditional breaking open of beer barrels.

Bavarian Premier Markus Soeder announced in April that the Oktoberfest, which draws around six million visitors annually, would be cancelled for the first time since World War II due to the pandemic.

The event comes as Bavaria nervously eyes a growing coronavirus caseload. In Munich, Germany's disease control body, the Robert Koch Institute, is registering 47.6 cases per 100,000 residents over the past two weeks. At 50, tougher restrictions kick in.

Social distancing and mask requirements will dampen this year's festivities, which typically see beer-soaked revellers dancing on benches in traditional costume.

Gregor Lemke, spokesman for a group of city centre landlords and head of the Augustiner Klosterwirt, says live music will be limited to accordion and guitar.

Still, for dedicated Wiesn-goers like 77-year-old Guenter Werner, who says he hasn't missed a day of Oktoberfest in 60 years, the pub-based parties will be better than his original plan of "sitting on the Theresienwiese with a crate of beer".

The city has in any case said it was banning drinking at the site to "prevent private replacement parties ... with a high risk of infection."

Climate activists are instead planning to occupy the space on Saturday with a booze-free protest in support of small Bavarian farmers - in traditional costume, with regional food and non-alcoholic beer.

Organisers of Saturday's events say the altered format ties in with the origins of the Oktoberfest about 200 years ago, when festivities were held in inns rather than in tents.

"As new as the concept sounds: it is based on a tradition that is just as old as the Wiesn itself," the organisers state on the event's website.

Elsewhere in the city, a number of Ferris wheels, carousels, shooting galleries and stalls selling traditional Bavarian costume have been erected in a nod to the season.

Australian Associated Press