Even small beer didn't keep the Munichers from the Theresienwiese away after WWII.
Will the Oktoberfest 2020 be cancelled due to the SARS-CoV-2-pandemic? Who would have thought that we actually have to consider the possibility of a cancellation after 70 Oktoberfests in a row? If Covid-19 will lead to the postponement of the 187th Munich Oktoberfest, it would be the 25th time that a year ends without an Oktoberfest.
After already having had a look at the replacement Oktoberfests after WWI, this time we’d like to spotlight the last time the festival had to be cancelled and more precisely the fall festivals that replaced it between 1946 and 1948.
From 1939 on, the Wiesn obviously had to be cancelled due to World War II. Its 1939 edition was of course already planned, but with the beginning of the war in late August, its construction came to an abrupt end.
Astoundingly, the following year, saw a small volksfest at the Zirkuswiese (Martin-Greif-Straße, Schwanthalerhöhe). There, in the vicinity of the Theresienwiese, people would ride carousels and swings between slit trenches. You can only imagine how bad the residents of Munich wanted to celebrate, even during war times.
Fortunately, the Theresienwiese survived the rest of the war and the Nazis’ plans to transform it into a parade ground with several monumental buildings but no Bavaria or Ruhmeshalle. Already in 1945, the association of Bavarian showmen asked the American Military Government for a permit to hold an Oktoberfest, which was however denied.
Nonetheless, not even a year after the end of the war, the Theresienwiese again lived up to its origin as a fairground with its first volksfest in the spring of 1946. Half of the city having been destroyed during the war, the next real Oktoberfest was still far away.
Instead, on September 14th a so-called fall festival (Herbstfest) was opened at the Theresienwiese on a third of the usual space. Two tents, only one of them with an orchestra, sold small bier of all of Munich’s breweries. The Ochsenbraterei wasn’t one of them – it still had to be denazified.
As food and beverages could only be bought using food stamps, the focus of the guests was more on the 200 participating showmen and rides, anyway. Their owners even collected a significant amount of money beforehand to support the city with the reconditioning of the fairgrounds.
Shooting galleries wouldn’t be allowed by the military government for political reasons and were replaced by an impressive number of 25 ball toss booths. Also remarkable is the fact that the festival lasted 23 days.
The Herbstfest of 1947 even only had one single tent. The visitors’ wallets, however, were wider open than ever as in the everyday life money wasn’t worth much due to empty shelves. Hence, the only landlord sold an astounding 1,5 million liters of small beer. And it gets even better: all of that beer had to be consumed before 7 pm when the festival already had to close each day due to the lack of electricity.
In 1948, the situation was completely different: after the currency reform people stood with empty pockets in front of full shelves but even though they were short of money, they were happy to finally eat all the chicken and gingerbread they missed so much in the last years.
Although still illegal, even real beer could be found at the Theresienwiese and a small defile was allowed to take place on the festival’s main Sunday. Even with all these signs of a real Oktoberfest coming closer, the decision to actually organize one for 1949 was only met after long discussions.
The council of the city of Munich feared, its decision pro Oktoberfest could be met with criticism from the Americans. Also, some were skeptic if the city was already prepared for the first post-war Oktoberfest. A failed attempt to revive the largest volksfest of the world could have meant a major setback, maybe even the end of the festival.
In retrospect, the supporters of 1949’s Oktoberfest were fortunately right. The festival’s longest hiatus finally came to an end a glorious second half of the 20th century laid ahead.