Every year, approximately 6 million people flock to the Bavarian capital for Munich’s Oktoberfest, the world’s largest traditional festival (and drink-a-thon) held over the course of two weeks each fall, beginning in mid- or late September. At the festivities, also known as the Wiesn, massive crowds dressed in lederhosen (leather breeches) and dirndl (embroidered dresses) pack into large tents with long wooden tables to swig beer and sing cheerful folk songs performed by German oompah bands. The annual Bavarian festival was scheduled to take place this year from September 19 through October 4. However, due to concerns about the spread of the coronavirus, Oktoberfest 2020 has been canceled.
Why was Oktoberfest 2020 canceled?
During a joint press conference on Tuesday, April 21, Bavaria’s Minister President Markus Söder and Munich’s Lord Mayor Dieter Reiter announced that Oktoberfest 2020 will be canceled, as “the risk is too high” to host the massive event, where it would be essentially impossible to abide by the necessary social distancing measures to slow the spread of the virus. “It is about the biggest and most beautiful festival in the world,” said Söder about Oktoberfest. “[But] we are living in different times and living with corona means living carefully. This is not a normal year and it’s unfortunately a year without the Oktoberfest. It hurts. It’s a huge shame.”
While the news that Oktoberfest 2020 is canceled is certainly disappointing, it isn’t necessarily surprising. Large events are banned across Germany until at least the end of August, and Chancellor Angela Merkel has urged Germans to stay at home and follow the lockdown measures introduced in March to slow the spread of the virus.
How many times has Oktoberfest been canceled?
Munich’s Oktoberfest has been canceled just 24 times in the more than two centuries since it was first celebrated after Bavaria’s Crown Prince Ludwig married Princess Therese of Saxony-Hildburghausen in 1810. The annual event has not been canceled since World War II, but while it’s taken place steadily over the past 70 years, there have been a handful of global events throughout its history that prevented Oktoberfest from going ahead as planned.
The Munich event was first canceled during 1813 due to the Napoleonic Wars, which involved battles fought by the Bavarian Army. In 1854, organizers canceled the traditional beer festival in the face of cholera outbreaks, which killed thousands of people in Munich and across Europe. In 1866, Oktoberfest was paused while Bavaria fought in the Austro-Prussian war, and yet again in 1873, when another wave of cholera reemerged.
The Bavarian festival wasn’t celebrated in Munich while World War I raged from 1914 to 1918, and it was subsequently canceled during 1923 and 1924 due to hyperinflation from the war. During World War II (from 1939 to 1945), Munich’s Oktoberfest was put on hold, and from 1946 through 1948, the global event was celebrated as a “small fall festival” before it returned to its full splendor. In the more than half century since that time, however, Munich’s Oktoberfest has been hosted annually—until this year, amid the coronavirus pandemic.
When will Munich’s Oktoberfest return?
Munich mayor Dieter Reiter said he was sorry to disappoint the 2 million people who travel from abroad for the annual Oktoberfest and said it was also a blow to Bavarians, as the Munich event takes in around $1.1 billion each year.
“It’s a quite sad day for me,” said Reiter in the announcement, adding that the cancellation of Oktoberfest 2020 is “a bitter pill to swallow.” However, German officials stated that it’s very likely Oktoberfest will return in 2021, so you can still look forward to chanting the “Ein Prosit” drinking song with your new Wiesn Bekanntschaften (Oktoberfest acquaintances) in future years.