German officials in Bavaria on Tuesday canceled the iconic Oktoberfest beer festival for the first time since World War II dealing a fresh blow to Germany’s beer industry already hard hit by the coronavirus pandemic.
The event, which takes place annually from late September to October, was expected to draw six million visitors, but it would be too dangerous “as long as there is no vaccine,” Bavaria state premier Markus Soeder said.
Even with masks and social distancing, the threat of contagion was just too high.
“Living with the coronavirus means living carefully,” he said.
This year marks the first time that Germany will have to do without the festival since the last world war.
But Oktoberfest had previously fallen victim to other epidemics — cholera kept the beer tents empty in 1854 and 1873.
From hops growers to breweries, the German beer industry had already been staring at a morose season.
But the Oktoberfest cancellation was a further devastating blow with an impact stretching beyond the festival to the gastronomy and hospitality sectors.
Adolf Schapfl, 58, owns a farm of about 80 hectares in Hallertau, the small Bavarian region where 90 percent of Germany’s hops are grown.
Crouching down on the soft earth of his hop field, Schapfl surveyed the plants emerging from the ground with a mixture of pride and anxiety.
Mid-April is usually the time when the plants would be tied to splints, he explained, so they grow to several meters tall by August harvest time.
“This year, I don’t have the manpower for it,” he said.
More than a thousand hop growers in Hallertau are still waiting for seasonal workers to arrive from Poland and Romania.
With European borders closed to limit the spread of the coronavirus, many of the workers are stuck at home.
Schapfl, who is also president of the Association of German Hop Growers, would normally have around 20 Polish workers on his farm at this time of year. Right now, there are four.