Crowds Pour in for Oktoberfest After Two Years of Pandemic Closures

For the first time since 2019, millions will travel to Munich for the famous beer festival

Crowds on the first day of Oktoberfest in Munich, Germany
Crowds on the first day of Oktoberfest in Munich, Germany Photo by Alexandra Beier / Getty Images

Following two years of Covid-19 restrictions, Germany’s Oktoberfest is back. And fans of the beer festival—from college students to Bavarian officials—are ready to party.

With the traditional cry of “O’zapft is,” (“It’s tapped!”), Munich Mayor Dieter Reiter hammered the tap into the first Oktoberfest keg on Saturday in front of a cheering crowd. Over the next few weeks, some six million people are predicted to attend the Munich festival, reports Bloomberg’s Tim Loh. It’s a much-needed boost to the area’s tourism economy after two years of slow business.

Oktoberfest dates back to 1810, when it was staged to celebrate the marriage of Bavarian King Ludwig I and Princess Therese of Saxony-Hildburghausen. The celebration returned in 1811, and it has been held nearly every year since. Until the pandemic, the last time it had been canceled was during World War II.

“I am very happy. I also campaigned hard for it to happen,” Bavarian Premier Markus Soeder tells Reuters’ Rachel Faber. “We need joie de vivre. We need tradition. And we need support … We are very proud that it can take place again.”

But despite enthusiasm, re-opening the event comes with challenges.

For one, the potential to spread Covid-19 is high. During Oktoberfest, attendees spend hours crammed into tents, sitting elbow-to-elbow with friends and strangers, dancing, drinking and eating. Masks are optional, and the event’s official site doesn’t mention vaccine requirements. Visitors are asked to follow the honor system and stay home if they’re feeling sick. They’ll also have to weigh the potential for fun against the potential for infection. A German word aptly describes this, writes Bloomberg: Übertragungswahrscheinlichkeit, which roughly translates to “probability or risk of transmission.”

“It should be everyone's own responsibility to decide if and how they visit Oktoberfest,” Soeder tells Bloomberg.

Another cloud hanging over the festivities is inflation, which could reach 10 percent in Germany by year’s end, report Michael Faulhaber and Daniel Niemann for the Associated Press (AP). Soaring gas and fuel prices in Europe due to the Russian war in Ukraine, plus lingering supply chain issues from the pandemic, mean that the price of beer in an Oktoberfest tent is up 15 percent this year compared to 2019. And brewers are feeling the squeeze.

“Prices for everything have changed significantly this year,” Sebastian Utz, head technician at Munich’s Hofbraeu Brewery, tells the AP. “To brew beer you need a lot of energy ... and for refrigeration. And at the same time, we need raw materials—barley malt, hops—where procurement has increased in price.”

Put more starkly, “[t]hese are prices that the German brewing industry has never seen before,” Ulrich Biene, a spokesperson for Veltins Brewery, tells the AP.

Despite these concerns, revelers under the tent over the weekend were in high spirits, overjoyed at being back.

“There’s just nothing else in the world that’s like this,” one unnamed attendee tells Reuters.

“It’s a dream, after abstaining for so long,” says another. “Finally we’re here in the tent again.”