Binge drinking is a concept commonly frowned upon amidst civilised societies and yet for two weeks from September through to October (17 September to 3 October) an internationally-lauded event disregards these social rules and somehow avoids being negatively connoted. Oktoberfest is viewed internationally as a stereotypical German experience, attracting crowds upwards of six million to Munich, a city of an estimated 1.4 million, for the purpose of sampling beer from the top six Munich brewers.
However, following a summer plagued by numerous terror attacks spread across Europe, an occurrence unfathomable to European citizens, a striking new reality has begun to set in, that events such as Oktoberfest can no longer be so ‘open’ in terms of drinking. The exponential rise in security at events such as Oktoberfest illustrates a harrowing picture of the current situation in Central Europe. It also begs the question as to whether or not, by adjusting our daily behaviour or even centuries-old traditions, we are losing the second War on Terror.
the German government, in preparation for this year’s celebration, spent an estimated 2.8 million euros on security alone.
Having spoken to various locals, for whom it is commonplace to visit Oktoberfest annually, they attest to seeing a larger physical security presence. Furthermore, for the first time, partitions have been erected surrounding the grounds. “The council of Munich decided to build a fence around the Oktoberfest to have a certain amount of entrances to make it easier to control the masses of people visiting the festival,” Fabrizio, age 20, told me. Additionally, “For the first time ever bags are not allowed.”
Perhaps one of the major changes to security has been the physical controlling of the masses. Whereas in the past patrons were allowed to come and go freely, now they are being herded into various entrances and then subjected to bag checks.
Fabrizio noted that: “The tube station Theresienwiese is the closest stop to the Oktoberfest but since they built a fence you cannot access the festival directly from that specific stop. A lot of people visiting the Oktoberfest this year have started using other tube stations like Poccistrasse and Goetheplatz, which are further away but it’s easier to get to one of the main entrances of the festival.”
These stark observations are not merely hearsay as the German government, in preparation for this year’s celebration, spent an estimated 2.8 million euros on security alone. Of this 2.8 million, 2.2 million was dedicated to hiring additional security guards. However, security at Oktoberfest has always been a priority, not just because of the issue of overcrowding. The Bavarian festival experienced its own terror attack in 1980 when a radical extremist set off a bomb, killing 13 people including himself and injuring countless more.
Additionally, last summer the Wall Street Journal reported on the difficulties facing Germany with regards to housing so many refugees in conjunction with the influx of tourists for the festival. This year the issues have shifted and rather than the placement of refugees it is German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s ‘open-door policy’ towards Syrian refugees which many are taking issue with. These tensions came to a climax this past June as thousands of Germans protested outside the German Bundestag (national parliament) demanding a change to the current immigration policies.
Furthermore, when alcohol is involved, it creates a factor of unpredictability, which to an extent justifies the heightened security. German drinking culture has been marginalised in the press when compared to the United Kingdom, despite Germany ranking fifth on the World Health Organization’s Alcohol Consumption in the EU. Drinking at Oktoberfest is not limited by time constraints and one is expected to drink their first ‘Maß’ (equivalent of 1 litre) when the tent doors open, which on weekends is around 9am. However there are succinct distinctions between these two cultures with regards to drinking culture, which play a crucial role in the way security has been approached.
Social anthropologist Kate Fox says: “The British . . . believe that alcohol . . . makes people amorous or aggressive. . . .”, effectively imbuing them with a false sense of confidence. Juxtaposed with Germany, despite their heavy drinking culture, it is not connoted with being ‘drunk’ necessarily but rather is a function of social interaction. As such, Oktoberfest would not be classified as rowdy, and despite the many people, fights and violence among festivalgoers are a rare occasion, making terrorist threats the priority for a heightened security presence.
Now that the third and final weekend of Oktoberfest has passed, we have a more complete picture of how it has been impacted by the political climate. Historically, the first weekend of Oktoberfest welcomes about one million people; this year there was a drastic fall as a mere 500,000 showed up. This means that attendance fell by 50 per cent. Local Oktoberfest-goers have noted this sharp fall in attendance.
“A lot of ‘Münchner’ have decided to stay home this year,” Fabrizio told me. “The hype around the Oktoberfest hasn’t been as powerful as in the past couple of years. Instead of celebrating in the streets, dressing up and drinking beer you can notice that a lot of people are just scared of attacks and prefer to stay home.”
Evidently, the current political climate did little to hinder those who wanted a beer or two.
However with regards to the impact this lower turnout has had on drinking, despite the lower turnout, according to the festival hosts nine oxen were consumed during the opening weekend, compared to the 10 oxen which opened up the 2015 opening weekend. Evidently, the current political climate did little to hinder those who wanted a beer or two. When asked whether the current political climate, throughout Europe, had impacted his own drinking at an event such as Oktoberfest? One festivalgoer, 19-year-old Alex, felt the current situation did nothing to deter from his good time at the event, going so far as to say: “This year I went to the Oktoberfest more often that last year.”
The culmination of these events and conflicting issues illustrate a desolate picture of the state of Europe where terror is perhaps reigning.The political climate has undoubtedly impacted daily life and further influences established traditions. This begs the question: to what end? Merkel made the argument for keeping an ‘open-door’ immigration policy to not punish the majority for the actions of few. However, with increased security, how can we actively push for further integration and therefore blur the lines between us and those few, making waves towards a more peaceful Europe?