COVID closes Oktoberfest for 2nd year, fueling economic angst in Munich

With music festivals and crowded football stadiums in full swing in the United States, in Munich, the site of the famous Oktoberfest, the streets are normally teeming with joy and beer right now, but the 1.5 million Residents of the Bavarian capital will have to give up their great tradition for a second year in a row due to COVID-19.

In the heart of the city, the California Bean is a popular brunch spot offering a mix of American and Bavarian fare. Restaurant owner Eveyln Müller told ABC News that while her restaurant has a relaxed atmosphere, she says the cancellation of one of the world’s most famous festivals, now two years in a row, brings a feeling of emptiness to the inhabitants.

“[We miss] people, business we miss. We miss everything, ”said Müller.

This vacuum also has an impact on the city’s economy. Many companies struggled under COVID restrictions last year and Munich was no exception. Businesses in the region are feeling the pressure of the cancellation of the 16-day event in which around two million gallons of beer are consumed and more than six million people visit the region.

In 2019, Oktoberfest brought in more than 1.2 billion euros for the city of Munich, according to a report from the city’s Ministry of Labor and Economic Development. Without this money entering the region since then, economic fears are high.

Michael Christian, who has worked in the restaurant industry in Munich for 15 years, now works as a waiter at a local coffee shop chain called Müller-Brot, having lost his job at an Italian restaurant in 2020. He says that with With the lack of money he earned in his last year, hotel workers cannot afford to miss any income in a city like Munich.

“The rent is high, and the food and the way of life [prices are also] high, ”said Christian. The Bavarian capital is one of the most expensive cities in Germany to live in, and according to a recent report by Immowelt, a German home and apartment search site, rents have increased by 24% over the past five last years.

At The 4You Hostel, just one metro stop north of the Oktoberfest grounds, Philipp Freund, who works there as a clerk, says 2020 has brought extreme financial challenges, and he’s unsure whether the business would survive.

“Like my boss, every week he was in a bad mood or even in a darker mood like we never knew because [there] There was a lot of uncertainty, and yes, I think we were pretty close. So if we didn’t get any help from the government, we would be closed. Certainly, like there’s no chance, ”Freund told ABC News.

Munich’s Department of Labor and Economics told ABC News that businesses received government assistance during pandemic shutdowns, but only 10% of establishments in the city have closed permanently. When the city announced in May that Oktoberfest would be canceled again, surviving restaurants and hotels now face another hurdle.

“A lot of months you don’t really make a lot of money. Most hotels just survive on Oktoberfest, so when Oktoberfest isn’t happening it’s a big deal,” Freund said.

Clemens Baumgärtner, Munich City Deputy Mayor for Labor and Economy and Oktoberfest leader, told ABC News he understands the gravity of the economic situation, but the cancellation is essential.

“Missing it twice in these trying times is a huge economic damage, but you can’t compare the economic damage to the health damage it would do when it happens now in 2021,” Baumgärtner said. “So any money paid or not earned costs less than losing your life. For that reason, it was the only absolute right decision not to let that happen in 2021.”

While the International Motor Show was held last week in the city and brought additional income to the community, Clemens said, he said he also recognizes the stress suffered by businesses and workers. local, but that the cancellation of Oktoberfest is to ensure the future success of the brand, and more importantly, the event must be done well or not all, because it is more than just a festival.

“The thing about Oktoberfest is that it’s not just a beer festival. It’s not about big LCD screens showing silly stuff and loud music. It’s about history, culture, [and] local culture, which is taken very seriously[ly],” he said.

He said his team are exploring different health and safety protocols so the event can return safely next year.

Although the Oktoberfest atmosphere is lacking in Munich, the German festival is celebrated in Cincinnati this weekend, where Clemens will visit as the first Oktoberfest chef in history to celebrate the Bavarian event- American the same weekend as his traditional dates in Munich.

Now at the site of the Theresienwiese where the event is usually held and is expected to start this weekend, it feels like a ghost town. There are no amusement parks lighting up the skies, only cyclists roam the 4.5 million square foot open space. The roaring energy of 10,000 people crammed into large beer tents, for now, has been replaced by the sound of families enjoying leisurely afternoon walks. Where there would normally be 13,000 workers to bring one of Germany’s richest traditions to life, only two food stalls remain in the entire region.

Freund says what he misses most about the folk festival is meeting people from all over the world and the energy they bring to the city, but says he’s optimistic that the year next will be different.

“Well, first of all it’s the vaccinations, that’s what gives me hope. A lot of people around the world have the opportunity to get vaccinated, and I just hope if it is. safe for everyone, it’s a great experience… So I hope that the next year, Oktoberfest is a big party because the pandemic is over or we are overcoming it. I look forward to this ”, a- he declared.

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