Can the Oktoberfest take place in 2021 or will it once again be canceled due to the COVID-19-pandemic?
For the first time in 70 years, the Munich Oktoberfest had to be canceled in 2020. Due to the ongoing COVID-19-pandemic, many people are asking us whether the 2021 edition will have to be canceled again. This is what we know so far.
Update 25/3: "Wouldn't bet on it"
Munich's mayor Dieter Reiter talked about the Oktoberfest during a surgery. The decision of whether to hold the Oktoberfest or not is supposed to be made in May. Rieter made clear that it will also depend on the pandemic on a global level as there are visitors from more than 100 countries coming every year. He wouldn't want to imagine having hundreds of corona spreaders sitting in the beer tents. "Therefore we really have to err on the side of caution and can only decide positively if we're absolutely sure. At the moment, I wouldn't bet on it to happen."
When will be decided if the Oktoberfest can take place?
In 2020 Munich's Mayor Dieter Reiter and Bavaria's Prime Minister Markus Söder announced on April 21st that we would have to abstain from the Oktoberfest that year. This was surprisingly early and by far not the latest date they could have chosen to make the decision. This year, it will probably be decided in May. The Oktoberfest construction is usually set to begin in July, eleven weeks before the beginning of the Oktoberfest.
Is an Oktoberfest with restrictions thinkable?
No. This has a number of reasons, one of them being of economic nature. Setting up a large Oktoberfest tent costs more than a million Euro, hence you need to be able to use your capacity to be able to refinance this investment. Having to space people apart would render that impossible. Additionally, you can certainly doubt that assuring that Oktoberfest visitors respect physical distancing rules will be easily possible.
For the city of Munich, the organizer of the Oktoberfest, there are, however, more important things to consider than sheer economics, above all the preservation of the event's distinct character. "Too much of everything" is an essential trait of the Oktoberfest. Trying to tone down some aspects, especially the lively atmosphere with huge crowds, would inevitably damage its brand's core values.
After the Oktoberfest's last hiatus as a result of WWII, this was the reason for replacing the Oktoberfest with smaller autumn festivals in an economy of scarcity in post-war Munich. It wasn't until 1949 that the actual Oktoberfest came back - after much debate if Munich and the economy would already be ready for it.
The fear, an inadequate Oktoberfest after the break could threaten its future, is today just as present as back then. Mayor Reiter therefore already announced that there will be no toned-down Oktoberfest. He also explicitly rejected ideas of limiting access to vaccinated visitors. Even if this were theoretically possible and legal this fall, the resulting logistic effort would be unmanageable.
This is different for the Frühlingsfest that is usually taking place in April: it's planned to happen in June without beer tents.
Could there be a replacement?
In general, the Oktoberfest is not replaceable. However, in 2020 Munich saw a concept to enable showmen to at least make some money that season: Sommer in der Sadt ("Summer in the City"). At multiple locations distributed over the city, you could find rides and booths.
The Theresienwiese, however, was almost entirely neglected. We see a good chance of something happening at the Theresienwiese this year, depending on how we get through spring. We could imagine some kind of fall festival with beer gardens. All this uncertainty is of course not great for planning an Oktoberfest trip this year. Luckily, it's now standard that even the cheapest hotel rates are fully refundable.