MUNICH: The beer is flowing at Munich's world-famous Oktoberfest for the first time since 2019.
With three knocks of a hammer and the traditional cry of “O'zapft is” - “It's tapped” - Mayor Dieter Reiter inserted the tap in the first keg at noon on Saturday (Sep 17), officially opening the festivities after a two-year break forced by the coronavirus pandemic.
The Oktoberfest has typically drawn about 6 million visitors every year to packed festival grounds in Bavaria’s capital. The event did not take place in 2020 and 2021 as authorities grappled with the unpredictable development of COVID-19 infections and restrictions.
Those worries were put aside this year. The city announced in late April that Oktoberfest would go ahead, and Reiter said Saturday that “it was a good decision".
“I'm glad that we can finally celebrate together,” Bavarian governor Markus Soeder said at the opening ceremony. “There are many who say, ‘Can we, can we not? Is it appropriate now?’ I just want to say one thing: We have two or three difficult years behind us, no one knows exactly what this winter will be like, and we need joie de vivre and strength.”
In its 200-year history, the world's biggest folk festival has been cancelled just 26 times, mostly due to World Wars I and II but also twice due to cholera outbreaks.
The last time the festival was held in 2019, the 6.3 million guests drank more than 7.3 million litres of German beer. Oktoberfest generates about €1.2 billion (US$1.2 billion) in income.
Three hours before Reiter tapped the first keg, revellers rushed to secure seats in the huge beer tents as the gates to the festival opened.
They will need significantly deeper pockets than at the last Oktoberfest, with brewers and visitors facing pressure from inflation.
A 1-litre mug of beer costs between €12.60 and €13.80 this year, which is an increase of about 15 per cent compared with 2019, according to the festival's official homepage.
This year’s Oktoberfest, the 187th edition of the event, runs through Oct 3.
Soeder told the daily Muenchner Merkur newspaper in comments published earlier Saturday that the number of coronavirus infections would probably rise following the Oktoberfest but “at the same time, thankfully, we aren't measuring an undue strain on hospitals anywhere".
“That speaks for us being in a new phase of COVID-19," he said, adding that authorities would try to protect vulnerable people but not prevent celebrations.