To fest or not to fest, that is the question

In case you haven’t heard or just live in a parallel universe, the Oktoberfest has been cancelled for 2020 due to COVID-19. If you have to ask which Oktoberfest, it’s definitely not your hearing that needs to be checked. In fact, it and Munich would be in full swing right now otherwise. This is very much old news here in Munich as it was cancelled months ago when it city was still in lockdown. Many wondered why the city had acted so quickly in scrapping what is its biggest money maker but those who live here know well that it takes months to erect the small town which is the Wiesn. If they had spent the money to build it only to have to cancel later, even more money would have been lost.

It’s not just about beer at the Okotberfest

While no one expected the annual celebration to reappear out of nowhere, it never really hit home for most people until the actual time was upon us. I guess it would have been easier to digest if not entirely accept if COVID-19 was safely behind us and we knew the Wiesn would return next year on schedule but nothing is really very certain in these most uncertain of times. This scene played out over the summer as the other big festivals didn’t come and go as usual: Annafest in Forchheim, Bergkirchweih in Erlangen, Bierwoche in Kulmbach and Sandkerwa in Bamberg. There were countless other small ones which were cancelled too. Many screamed it was a plot of some kind, to muzzle us with masks and take away our freedom but I really doubt that any of the people in charge of cancelling these events took their decisions lightly. They are very big parts of their towns’ economies. While Munich’s big breweries will easily recoup their losses, the smaller businesses in town won’t and further down the line, the people who work in the service industry may even find their jobs no longer there.

The annual parade on opening day was not to be in 2020

So, how have things gone in the wake of such things? Well, as mentioned even some small festivals went by the way side. Kirchweihs are generally small festivals for the local churches in villages. Kerwa in dialect in certain areas, Bamberg’s Sandkerwa is the biggest if not most typical due to the crowds it draws. That said, some in small villages felt it wasn’t possible to have theirs and still stay within COVID-19 restrictions. Huppendorf’s is one I know that went this route. If you’ve been to this small village on a Sunday at lunch, you can understand why a festival there is anything but small despite the size of its local population. Probably due to relatively small numbers to start with, some felt able to run them albeit on a reduced level. I went to one in Aisch and felt totally safe at the Rittmayer brewpub there.

relatively sedate Fest in Aisch

I felt they did a great job of spacing the tables and greeting guests to get them to unoccupied spots. Of course, it meant less seats in their quaint and atmospheric Biergarten but the additional seating in the courtyard easily took the overflow. I was there on a Monday so can’t comment on what it was like on the weekend. The food and Kerwabier were excellent. Of course, it’s not so easy if you have six million people coming as is the case with Munich’s Big Show. It would have been a logistical nightmare to say the least.

controlling the crowds even in regular times is tough

People often ask me if locals go to the Oktoberfest and I tell them they go in droves. Some take off two weeks from work to go to the Wiesn, as it’s locally called. To say that people here are disappointed is a very large understatement. How are they coping with it? As expected, many local businesses are cashing in on the “need to fest.” In town, many restaurants have special Wiesn menus and are serving the Oktoberfest beers from the Big Six Munich breweries. I’ve read in the paper it’s a bit on the crowded side and those not attending are complaining about a lack of spacing and control. COVID-19 is again on the rise in Bavaria, after all. Since I haven’t been, I won’t comment but I noticed the Biergarten at the Viktualienmarkt had re-arranged their seating and were at least attempting to do it right. That said, there did appear to be some seats closer together than is required and I imagine using the restrooms is problematic in this regard too.

Ayinger’s Wiesn was textbook of what can be done

I did attend a very well-run pseudo Wiesn at Ayinger last Sunday and can attest to the attention to detail the Ayinger Bräustüberl paid to running it. Their small shady Biergarten is always pretty idyllic but they truly spaced their tables according to regulations. Of course, they lost a good half of their seats in doing so but it made for a very relaxed atmosphere. You had to wear masks in line to enter and people seemed to actually stand a good 2 meters apart when waiting to be seated. They took your contact info. In our case a party of four, we were asked if it were two households and had to give contact info for each. They were on top of cleaning tables once vacated and the restrooms were not crowded despite people not quite heeding the two-person limit as delineated on the door. For good measure, they had a small and colorful carousel for the kids and a typical sweets vendor stand for the kid in us all. This small touch added to the Wiesn feel.

a great band & company makes all the difference

We’d gone out early to ensure getting a seat. Reservations were only possible if taking the Wiesn special menu so it was first come, first served for the remaining spots. We were happy to get one but I must admit cringing when the host led us up to a table right in front of the band. My wife isn’t a huge fan of traditional Bavarian folk music but we were pleasantly surprised to find they were an excellent outfit who could really play their instruments and since no amplification was necessary, not overly loud. We (and even she) actually enjoyed the music. The food was great as we’ve come to expect at the Bräustüberl and their Kirtabier hit a home-run too.

quite the beer & showman

Of course, great company is what makes any Fest and we had that too. While we didn’t get to intermingle with people as you would generally do at the Wiesn, we had our well-chosen small group and had fun just the same. I can certainly appreciate a lot of people, especially young ones in Munich, are going to always look back on a “lost Wiesn,” but those things happen in life. The Wiesn has been cancelled over the years for various reasons, from cholera outbreaks to WWII. We can only hope things get back to normal next year and if they don’t, we have to have faith in those making such decisions to do the right thing. I don’t imagine politicians wanting to risk their popularity without good reason. If the large scale Wiesn isn’t possible, perhaps with examples like Ayinger Bräustüberl, better but still safe versions will proliferate. In either case, if they have this one in Aying next year. I think we’ll be there.

us on the way home, thanks Ayinger Bräustüberl!

10 thoughts on “To fest or not to fest, that is the question

    1. Thanks for enjoying, Sarah. Must admit, we only go once to a beer tent and generally another visit or two just walking around outside. We almost always go during the week and not too late. Getting to old for the late night stuff there and it was probably getting too big anyway. It’s changed dramatically since I first went in 1978!

  1. It is sad to see iconic events like this being cancelled. The Sydney Council (which runs it) has indicated that it does not want to go ahead with the famous New Year Eve fire works. Thankfully the State government is looking at proceeding (if somewhat restricted crowd-wise). Personally I think we really need something like this (run safely, of course) as we enter 2021 to help put 2020 behind us.

    1. Never been but if it can be done right, it’s okay. There was no way to do the Oktoberfest safely and as I mentioned, it is so time consuming and expensive to build it, the decision would have had to be made back during the lockdown. We are headed towards more safety measure now as the numbers rise. I think the Bockbier season will mostly be lost and though nothing has been said, the Christmas markets aren’t likely to proceed either. It’s sad but I think we are a good six months from hopefully putting this somewhat behind us. I think masks on public transit are here to stay for a long while.

      1. Yes, I am inclined to agree re Oktoberfest … beer and social distancing don’t really work. Australia is in a somewhat better place than Europe right now though we had a second breakout in Victoria/ Melbourne – thankfully now under control again but it shows this thing is hard to beat.

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