A year without the Oktoberfest – it’s not so bad! Or is it? Thinking about the things we will really feel the absence of.
It’s actually not just Oktoberfest fanatics who will miss the cancelled event this year. Maybe it’s a little bit like having the Alps on the horizon: even if you don’t visit the mountains much, it’s always good to know they are there. And in Munich’s biorhythm, Oktoberfest marks the end of our summer, as it has done year after year. Or to look at it another way, it’s when the city’s unique festival season announces its arrival, accompanied by some unmistakable features:
the sustained high-pressure area that usually moves in so punctually; the wide Wittelsbach sky, and the white clouds that keep the airships flying low and easy to see.
In Munich’s biorhythm, Oktoberfest marks the end of our summer, as it has done year after year.
The faint smell of candy floss and almonds in the air, carried on a breeze that also conveys excited shrieks from the fairground rides far into the city on some days – and which later brings an evening chill that hits after your second al fresco beer, making you grateful you brought your granddad’s cardigan, even though you only intended it as a decorative bit of folksy costume.
These little side-effects and phenomena have become ingrained for Munich locals – as have the pennants on the trams; lost Oktoberfest visitors wandering quiet side streets a long way from the festival grounds; and the sight of strictly sober morning commuters equipped with laptop and lederhosen, expecting to let loose in eight and a half hours’ time. Honestly, even if you never attend Oktoberfest, the trappings of it still create a really special atmosphere in the city.
After all, it’s a two-week period during which everyone between Laim and Bogenhausen feels like our city is throwing a party for the world! It’s true that we won’t miss the overcrowded spaces, the post-Wiesn kerfuffle and the morning mess that follows a night of revelry. But that’s how it’s always been: if you throw a party you have to deal with the cleaning up – and that’s why we only do it once a year.
Now, for the first time in decades, September here will end just as it does in the rest of the world: quietly, leading us into autumn.
Even hard-nosed Oktoberfest resistors – who are perhaps cheering about this coronavirus-induced break – see these two weeks every year as an important time, as it gives them a reason to get out of the city and take another lovely autumn holiday. Or perhaps they use the opportunity to enjoy wonderful hiking in the mountains, far from the revellers. Maybe it just functions as a reminder to only cross the city by bike and via back roads, until it’s time to breathe a sigh of relief when the last beer has been drunk and the city clean-up is complete – and finally, peace can return. So even just in making this delineation, the festival serves a purpose.
Now, for the first time in decades, September here will end just as it does in the rest of the world: quietly, leading us into autumn. No airships, no sweet aromas of candy floss or almonds on the air, and no sitting for an hour on the cold steps at the foot of the Bavaria statue on that last weekend, taking in the scene like it’s a living surrealist painting.
It’s funny – you can like the Wiesn and even be a regular, and yet have nothing to do with the steins in the beer tent or the queue for the roller coaster. Over the years, many Munich locals have developed their own little rituals for ensuring they only end up getting the Oktoberfest experience that is essential for them: a peaceful bite of chicken in the morning, a single carousel ride, a stroll through the fairground with granny as you savour a Magenbrot biscuit or, of course, a visit to the Oide Wiesn, where many a squabble has been laid to rest. And perhaps it is also these small rituals that we will miss most this year. After all, the chicken and the fish rolls don’t taste the same anywhere else; they only give up their full flavour in the right setting.
Are there upsides to this break? Well, the tent builders and bar inspectors will be able to take some extra holiday. The Theresienwiese will have the unique chance for some natural renewal. Beer prices won’t go up. We have a quiet autumn ahead – and the next Wiesn season will be all the more beautiful for it.