They knew they could expect applause, but it's unlikely they ever had a more difficult public appearance in their careers: In a joint press conference today, Bavaria's Prime Minister Markus Söder and Munich's Lord Mayor Dieter Reiter ended all hopes for this year's Oktoberfest. The cancellation came as a surprise to no one after the latest developments in the Corona crisis, and hardly anyone would have understood if the city of Munich as the organizer had held on to hosting the largest folk festival in the world. And yet, the official declaration cuts deep into German public life. It carries one message above all: One can now pretty much cancel the rest of the year and at best start from scratch in 2021.
Five months until October 19, which is when the "Wiesn" would have begun: It sounds like a long time. But it is by no means long enough to reasonably ensure that the gathering of more than six million people in a confined space for 16 days would not trigger a new, massive pandemic wave. The main German Covid-19-Hotspots were the Ski-Ressort Ischgl and the Carnival-Town Heinsberg, were thousands of infections started.
Munich would not have become Ischgl and Heinsberg to the power of two, but Ischgl and Heinsberg to the power of three or four. Considering the terrible effects a single Champions League football match had on the Italian town of Bergamo, thousands contracted the virus in the course of 90 minutes, there can be no whether Söder and Reiter made a good decision or not.
And yet, as self-assured as Prime Minister is as Bavarian top crisis manager, even he was aware that it was also a huge symbolic act. "We are living in different times," he said. What that means, is: There will be no return to normality for many months to come - at least not until there is an effective cure and a vaccine to deal with the pandemic. And this message, of course, goes far beyond the news that this autumn a few merry evenings with raging crowds in a noisy beer tent will unfortunately not be happening.
The economic effects will primarily hit the city of Munich, which every year profits from a turnover of around 1.2 billion euros, both directly on the fairgrounds and indirectly through tourist venues. That is a lot of money, even for a rich community, and Munich's Lord Mayor Reiter looked correspondingly downcast on Tuesday morning. After all, there is more at stake here than a handful of large Biertent proprietors and roller coaster-operators, who have little to worry about. Rather, the signal is: Corona not only endangers our health, it also affects all of us in our wallets. And it will for a long time to come.