Oktoberfest will become more sustainable and inclusive, but not a ‘Woke-toberfest’ 19:21 Abroad The folk festival in Munich moves with the times. A logical consequence of the changing norms in society, but critics fear that this will be at the expense of tradition.

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  • Wouter Black

    Germany correspondent

  • Wouter Black

    Germany correspondent

With six million visitors, the annual Oktoberfest in Munich is one of the largest folk festivals in the world. But some of the folklore has been increasingly questioned in recent years. For example, the mountains of meat and beer were not sustainable and certain elements of the festival were perceived as sexist and racist.

But Oktoberfest is adapting. “188 years of tradition and progress can go together.”

In the video you can see what’s changing – and what the partygoers think:

The traditional Bavarian traditions of Oktoberfest are also examined’

The Wiesn, as the festival is popularly called in Bavaria, lasts no less than eighteen days this year. Traditionally, Bavarian breweries compete with each other in impressive tents, where thousands of people enjoy beer, sausage and Bretzel at the same time.

But the menu increasingly also includes organic and vegetarian dishes such as tofu and mushrooms. This year, the Paulaner Brewery is selling organic Hendl, free-range chicken from sustainable farms in the region for the first time.

Climate neutral brewery

These are steps in the right direction, according to city councilor Anja Berger (Grünen), who acts as an intermediary between the progressive city council and the generally more conservative middle classes at the Oktoberfest. “A number of breweries here now operate climate neutrally. Power comes from solar panels, the hot water pipes are also used as heating elements in the kitchens and close attention is paid to food waste.”

This also applies to the Schottenhamel party tent. The family business led by Christian Schottenhamel has been participating in the Oktoberfest continuously for 156 years. He knows what it is like to preserve traditions while moving with the times.

“The climate crisis is also close to my heart,” he says. “Certain things have to be changed, although most of that happens behind the scenes, without guests noticing. Because let’s be honest, most people still want the original Oktoberfest experience, with Hendl, Haxe and Schweinsbraten. But who is sustainable? and if you want to be vegetarian, you can contact us.”

Visitors in front of the Schottenhamel tent at the Oktoberfest last Saturday

It’s a sign of the times. There is also a social debate going on in Germany about changing standards. This is about more than climate and animal friendliness, as becomes clear further down the festival grounds.

For the past seventy years, anyone who wanted a coffee after all that beer could go to grand café Mohrenkopf, which means ‘moorkop’. But Katharina Wiemes, third-generation owner, changed the name to Café Theres’ last year. “I really didn’t think it was appropriate anymore. We can hold on to traditions and at the same time face the challenges of modern times.”

Racist pictures

There was much more fuss about the adjacent Oktoberfest fair. Anyone who has taken a ride on the Voodoo-Jumper merry-go-round in recent years has floated every lap past a painting in which a monkey pulls a bikini top off a white woman, while a black islander with stereotypical appearance looks enticingly at her bare bosom.

Further on in the Crazy Alm can-throwing tent, a black man secretly looked under the skirt of a white woman in Bavarian costume. The attractions traveled along German city squares for years without any problems, but last spring a storm of criticism suddenly arose; initially on social media and then in newspapers.

“The images were clearly racist and sexist,” city councilor Berger concluded. “The owners never did this with malicious intentions, but times change and with them norms and values. Some things are now experienced differently than you intended at the time and then you have to do something.”

More than beer and meat: the Oktoberfest also includes fairground attractions and other entertainment

That has now happened. The operators repainted the panels at their own expense, which in turn led to strong backlash. Some visitors and conservative media believe that the social debate is going too far and threatens the traditional character of Oktoberfest. According to the newspaper Bild, the festival should not become a “Woke-toberfest”.

Clemens Baumgärtner, politician of the conservative CSU and the big boss of the Oktoberfest, is also annoyed. “I mainly see political motives behind the commotion. In shops and even in churches you see naked images. That is not a problem, but suddenly it is at Oktoberfest. Because people know that it can create media attention and political momentum. This affair had can also easily be handled in a small circle.”

Operator Schottenhamel thinks so too. “Many older people want to preserve the old traditions, and I personally want that too. But I also want to avoid dealing with these kinds of themes hysterically. It must be a gradual process.”

He and the other operators at the Wiesn are in constant discussion with the city council about this. According to municipal councilor Berger, this will not happen quickly. “Changes do not happen here overnight, that is clear. But I see progress. And banning things makes no sense. We will have to solve it together.”

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