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Monday
Oct072013

Oktoberfest Dips Into Beer Recession

The Oktoberfest in Munich, Germany, the world’s largest annual fair and one of the biggest beer parties and binge events on the planet, attracts tourists from around the globe and is therefore closely watched for economic trends. Alas, this year was the second year in a row when, despite all Teutonic organizational ingenuity and marketing muscle, the number of visitors and the most crucial metric of all, beer consumption, “unexpectedly” dropped (as if we didn't have enough bad news already). 

The 16-day event, which ended on Sunday, was swarmed by what seemed like a lot of people who drank a lot of beer: spread over 14 large beer tents and 21 smaller ones, 6.4 million people guzzled 6.7 million liters (1.77 million gallons) of beer served in 1-liter glass mugs (33.8 oz.). No wimpy 8-oz. plastic cups at this party. In the process, people surrendered about €400 million of their hard-earned money in exchange for beer, food, trinkets, rides, and other essentials.

But the 180th Oktoberfest lacked superlatives. So the police intervened in 2,031 cases, the Oktoberfest reported, the same as in 2012. The Red Cross treated 7,551 guests, down 20% from 2012. Of them, 638 were alcohol-poisonings. Most of the rest were cuts from broken glass – these darn 1-liter beer mugs!

Victims included a tiny Kinglet that didn’t get out of the way when one of the many people who couldn’t hold their stuff barfed. The bird was rescued by a visitor who handed it to an on-duty firefighter who transported it – sirens blaring? – to an animal shelter. “It was in a terrible state,” a spokesman of the shelter said. “It couldn’t even open its wings up because of all the congealed mess, and even after it was washed and cleaned, it still looked very sorry for itself.” The shelter won’t set it free until it starts flying again.

Aside from the somewhat lower level of mayhem this year, the event was a disappointment. The number of visitors was stagnant compared to last year and down 7.2% from 2011. Beer consumption dropped 3% from last year and plunged 10.6% from 2011 – when 6.9 million visitors drank a record of 7.5 million liters of beer. The second down-year in a row! The dreaded beer recession!

It impacted the six breweries that are allowed to sell Oktoberfestbier, a brew that must conform to the Reinheitsgebot (Bavarian Purity Law of 1516), have at least 6% alcohol by volume, and be brewed within the city limits of Munich. Hence: Augustiner (founded in 1328, the oldest surviving brewery in Munich), Hacker-Pschorr, Hofbräu, Löwenbräu, Paulaner, and Spatenbräu.

Other crucial metrics were down as well: 114 oxen were roasted and eaten, along with 58 calves – down 2.6% and 1.7% respectively from 2011. That’s on top of what must have been tons of grilled chicken, sausages, and pork knuckles. For the first time, vegan food was offered, such as smoky soya-bean bratwursts and faux-meat frankfurters. No wonder attendance and beer consumption were down.

But blamed was, as always when something goes wrong, the weather. “I am convinced that we would have had a lot more, had it not been for the cold weather and rain during the second week,” explained Oktoberfest Director Dieter Reiter. “Especially the evenings were very empty because after 6 p.m., it was really quite cold and nobody sat in the beer garden. This also had an effect on the beer consumption.” So in an interview, he had some euphemisms for the debacle: “very relaxed” and “gemütlich.

The all-time attendance record was achieved in 1985 with 7.1 million visitors. The 2011 beer consumption record of 7.5 million liters beat the 2010 record of 7 million liters, which itself was up 500,000 liters from the financial-crisis-year of 2009. Credited for the huge jump in 2010 were the sunny weather, the fact that it was the 200th anniversay of the Oktoberfest, and the economic recovery.

But in reality.... “I’ve no idea why people drank that much,” Oktoberfest spokeswoman Gabriele Papke told the Spiegel at the time. “They were simply thirsty.”

These thirsty revelers beat the pre-financial crisis record of 6.94 million liters set in 2007. All these prior records easily beat beer consumption in 2013. If the economic recovery was responsible for the record years of 2010 and 2011, what was responsible for the down years 2012 and 2013? Truly dismal for a local and worldwide economy that is supposed to be expanding, for crying out loud!

The Lost and Found office, another carefully watched metric, didn’t set any records either with 1056 passports, 520 wallets, 320 mobile phones, 300 bags and rucksacks, 50 cameras, 110 pieces of jewelry and watches, and, among other oddities, two wedding-rings, a hearing-aid, an artificial set of teeth, and – “believe it or not,” the report said – a Segway. Some missing items have not yet been found, including €50,000 in cash. It seems, despite the lousy beer consumption, a least some people managed to drink enough.

Sticking with beer, on a more positive note. Amidst the fiascos and nightmares in the US economy, there is an industry of scrappy upstarts, tiny operations, and larger companies that use American ingenuity, marketing, and the right amount of hops to stand up to Wall-Street-engineered giants – and they’re winning the amazing American beer war. Read... The Winners Of the Amazing American Beer War

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