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Bavarians hold toned-down Oktoberfest amid virus
Oktoberfest celebrations got underway in Munich on Saturday with the traditional tapping of a keg and the cry of “O’zapft is” or “it’s tapped.” But this year’s festival is non-traditional and highly regulated over coronavirus concerns. (Sept. 19)
Beer lovers and Germanophiles have know since April that there would be no Oktoberfest in Munich this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. But now that it actually is Oktoberfest season, the lack of crowded tents filled with festival-goers decked in dirndls and lederhosen shouting “prost!” is especially depressing.
The loss of Oktoberfest, which had been scheduled to run from Sept. 19 through Oct. 4, is a huge hit for the Bavarian city, which saw 6.3 million guests flood in last year for the festival’s 186th year. They were served 7.3 million liters (about 15.5 million pints) of beer over 16 days and consumed 124 oxen, among other traditional foods.
While no one is able to attend Oktoberfest in Munich, that doesn’t mean its spirit isn’t alive and thriving in other parts of the country – and world, including the United States.
Tour guides, breweries and beer halls, among others, are coming up with creative ways to fill the void.
German beer halls are putting on smaller festivities
While Munich may not see its typical large crowds, 50 of the southern German cities’ beer halls and other establishments are hosting their own, smaller parties that follow guidelines on mask wearing, social distancing and other restrictions.
On Saturday, former Mayor Christian Ude got the party started, hammering a tap into a 20 liter (5 gallon) keg – a tenth of the size of the Oktoberfest norm – at the Schillerbraeu beer hall while dressed in Bavarian lederhosen leather pants and wearing a protective mask.
Meantime, police patrolled the regular festival grounds to make sure no spontaneous parties broke out.
This year’s toned-down celebrations run through Oct. 4.
Oktoberfest online, tour groups, organizations going virtual
But in 2020, there are more options thanks to technology.
“We[‘re trying] this online escape to give you a feeling for Oktoberfest so that you can go to your local Oktoberfest with all the information with you or you celebrate with your family and you know what to sing and what to wear,” Petersen, who has been to Oktoberfest more than 20 times, told USA TODAY.
“Obviously, it’s not the same if you’re not physically there,” Peterson acknowledged. But the virtual version is more educational, offering a primer on the history of Oktoberfest.
After sharing information on the event’s history and events, he also sings traditional Oktoberfest tunes to his guests and shows them the proper foods to prepare.
There are four online sessions planned. The experience is open to everyone and tickets are available on EF Go Ahead website.
They’re not the only organization offering an online Oktoberfest.
Bavarian Beer Vacations, based in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany, is offering a virtual Oktoberfest opportunity as well. And South Carolina’s annual Newberry Oktoberfest, has been transformed into an online experience, too.
Brewers are boosting the spirit stateside
Brewers across the United States are celebrating Oktoberfest in their own way – some with Oktoberfest-themed beers and others with special offerings.
Craft brewers are getting in on the action too, conjuring up different ways to celebrate often in the area which they operate.
Devils Backbone Brewing Co., for example, has been offering “Yodelgrams” in the Washington, D.C. and Richmond, Virginia areas this week.
A “Yodelgram” is when a “real-life yodeling TikTok sensation arrives at your house, armed with Devils Backbone Oktoberfest beer and steins plus a custom yodel,” the brewery explained in a release.
Like Devils Backbone, Wallenpaupak Brewery, located in Hawley, Pennsylvania, plans to celebrate Oktoberfest in a less-conventional, non-festival way, too.
“We’re going to do a 2-week Oktoberfest celebration at the end of September,” Becky Ryman, the owner of Wallenpaupak, told USA TODAY in an email. “Since we can’t do our normal packed-house celebration, we’re going to do German food specials that complement our German & fall beers we have out for those two weeks.”
Wallenpaupak is also offering Oktoberfest take-home meal specials and a six-pack that comes with a brewery-branded stein and sticker. Details on their various specials including their “Laketoberfest” meal can be found on their Facebook page.
And Roscoe Brewing in Roscoe, New York, is hosting its own Oktoberfest celebration on Friday, featuring a hay maze, pumpkin painting, live music and more.
While many breweries are hosting events with specific beers and food options, many others are taking an even more socially-distant approach by releasing Oktoberfest beers for at-home celebrations.
Brooklyn Brewery, for example, has released its own rendition — their take on a Märzen lager, which originated in Bavaria. Sierra Nevada Brewing Co. and Michigan-based Founders Brewing Co. are among the many other breweries that boast an Oktoberfest brew.
Other places to find Oktoberfest grub
While some breweries will offer some festive dishes, beer gardens and restaurants too will be serving up German delights.
In New York City, Watermark Bar, which is situated on the East River, is hosting a socially distanced Oktoberfest featuring giant pretzels, bratwurst and, of course, German beer.
New Yorkers with a craving for German food at other times of the year can satisfy their cravings in Forest Hills, Queens, at Manor Oktoberfest, which is open year-round.
In Austin, Scholz Garten, which bills itself as the oldest operating beer garden in America, is welcoming guests in addition to offering an at-home Oktoberfest kit.
Popular dishes this time of year, according to owner Dan Smith, include pretzels, sausages and schnitzels. To quench your thirst, he says Hefeweizens “become really prominent in the fall.”
The at-home kit sells for includes four pounds of sausage links, fried pretzels with dipping mustards and sides including sauerkraut and German potato salad.
Entertainment is planned, as well, some of which Scholz will stream online for those who feel unsafe venturing out.
“Oktoberfest is a big event every year,” Smith said. “It’s a moment of happiness. This has been a difficult year and we’re looking for a little bit of normalcy.”
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Contributing: Gary Dinges, USA TODAY, Associated Press