The coronavirus outbreak is the latest reason for a string of cancellations that Oktoberfest has had over the years but people of Munich know it is just a blip and plans are already afoot for 2021.
Theresienwiese wore a deserted look early at the beginning of the month.
Whichever perspective you take it is hard to imagine this place empty in October when millions of people used to roll in from different nations to make it the largest beer festival arena in the world. Those 16 days of singing, dancing, blind carousing as if there's no tomorrow... alas, all gone when COVID-19 struck this time, it struck so hard that the authorities had no other way but to call the event off.
Oktoberfest 2020 is a no show.
Though many were expecting it for months, the decision came as a severe blow to Germany, especially Munich where the pageantry takes place every year.
The festival began in 1810 when the crown prince of Bavaria, Louis, who would later become Louis I, married Princess Therese von Sachsen-Hildburghausen before a huge gathering of the citizens of Munich gathered on the fields in front of the city gates. The festivities concluded with horse races as the royal couple watched on from the dais.
To commemorate the occasion and to honour the new princess people began to address the fields fondly as Theresienwiese, 'Theresa's fields (abbreviated later to Wiesn). Shouldn't good moments be repeated?
The decision of the authorities to continue with the festivities and also those horse races every year in October resulted in the tradition of 'Oktoberfest.' An agriculture festival showcasing the rich Bavarian agriculture was also introduced the following year (1811).
It was in 1818 that Oktoberfest began to turn towards real madcap revelry when the first carousel and swings were installed on the fields. What is carnival without the celebrated German bock!
Beer stands soon began to mushroom in Wiesn, offering refreshments to visitors who grew rapidly in number. The festival offered them a great opportunity to reach the much sought-after taste of German beer in all varieties. Beer tents and beer halls (made of plywood with interior halls and balconies!) were brought to the occasion in 1896 by businessmen supported by breweries.
At the beginning of the 20th century, all the major breweries of Munich at least got one temporary structure at Wiesen by September itself before the festival began. Just think. Each of these halls could hold 6,000 beer-lovers at one time. Wiesen became a pilgrim spot for beer lovers.
With the mayor of Munich tapping the first keg Oktoberfest begins. Just imagine, the total beer consumption during Oktoberfest is more than 2 million gallons. If you are in Munich, you'd be thrilled by the sight of pageantries featuring beer wagons and floats accompanied by people gyrating to music in folk costumes. Music, amusement rides and dances, the festival has indeed come a long way from the solemn occasion when a prince tied the nuptial knot some two hundred years ago.
Each year Munich receives around 6 million visitors ready to burn money on a whim at the festival. Euros flow into the country, strengthening not only the economy of Munich but also the lives of individuals who'd begin planning right from the beginning of the year what business they'd set up to cater to visitors who'd arrive in millions.
COVID blasted all such hopes for the year. Munich remained mute but not for the first time.
Oktoberfest was cancelled for the first time in 1813 when the country went to war against Napoleon. It was suspended again in 1854 due to a cholera outbreak. Twelve years later when Bavaria along with Austria went to war against Prussia, the country was not in a mood to celebrate. In 1873 cholera struck again, putting curtains once again on the festival. It was cancelled again during the First World War. Inflation put the breaks in 1923 and 1924. Again, from 1939 to 1945, when the Second World War raged on, nobody gave a thought to the fest.
That could be why the people of Munich who know the history of the greatest festival of beer on the planet are not looking wretched. They know beer will prevail over every setback.
Already they are making plans for Oktoberfest 2021.(Manu Remakant is a freelance writer who also runs a video blog — A Cup of Kavitha — introducing world poetry to Malayalis. The views expressed here are personal.)