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Security boosted for Munich's Oktoberfest

Sabine Dobel (dpa)September 7, 2016

Not giving in to terror, but taking it into account is what the organizers of Munich's Oktoberfest are trying to accomplish by implementing more security checks, fences and a ban on backpacks.

Deutschland Oktoberfest in München
Image: picture-alliance/dpa/F. Hörhager

Despite their reassurances that the festivities will not be affected, the Oktoberfest will be very different this year. Hotels say bookings have declined, Oktoberfest table reservations are being cancelled, clubs are pulling out of taking part in the Oktoberfest procession and invited celebrities are backing off: the fear of terror attacks has taken hold of Munich's Oktoberfest.

More security checks for festival visitors

Because of security concerns, large bags and backpacks will be banned for the fist time. A mobile fence will close off an area of the festival grounds, which until this year had been open and there will be security checks at all entrances.

Organizers are reacting with these measures to a series of attacks during July in Bavaria: a teenager killed nine people in a shooting rampage in Munich and two attacks were claimed by the so-called "Islamic State" (IS) terrorist group - a bungled suicide bombing in Ansbach which injured 15 people and an axe attack on a train in Würzburg, in which five people were injured.

"Security is our highest priority," said Josef Schmid, Munich's deputy mayor and managing director of the Oktoberfest. He added that Munich would not allow anything to "put a dampener on their festival".

Deutschland Oktoberfest in München
Munich is gearing up: more security checks and personnel to ensure visitors' safetyImage: picture-alliance/dpa/A. Gebert

Organizers, politicians and innkeepers all agree the best strategy is to keep calm, not to give in to fear of terror attacks and party on. And security officials agree, as there have so far been no concrete threats on the Oktoberfest.

There's still a feeling of unease

And yet, the atmosphere even before the festival begins is different than before. Many locals can be heard saying "Ich geh heuer nicht auf die Wiesn" – which means "I'm not going to the Oktoberfest".

Hotels also say there's been decline in room bookings. Some two weeks before the start of the festival there are still vacancies in hotels close to the Theresienwiese, where the festivities are held, even on the popular second weekend of the Oktoberfest. Martin Stürzer, deputy head of the Munich branch of the German Association of Hotels and Restaurants, says bookings have declined by as much as 15 percent.

Traditional established events at the festival are also being cancelled with organizers like Regine Sixt saying that given the current situation she does not want to be responsible for safety of over a thousand guests, which would include celebrities.

Table bookings at the festival are being cancelled. Toni Roiderer, who represents the beer-sellers at the Oktoberfest said that these cancellations were no cause for concern as there are dozens waiting to fill the places that are being vacated over cancellations.

Citing security concerns two clubs have pulled out of the costume and riflemen's parade of some 9,000 people that follows the official opening of the Oktoberfest. Replacing them has not really been a problem according to Karl-Heinz Knoll, the president of the festival committee Festring München. He said "we have so many applicants we could organize several parades." He said that even though he could understand why people might be worried, "giving into these fears is not an option, as then any big, public event would become impossible to carry out."

München Oktoberfest Hacker Festzelt
Economic considerations: how many visitors will come this year?Image: picture-alliance/dpa

More security comes at high cost

Fear of attacks is nothing new to the Oktoberfest. In 1980, a right-wing extremist planted a bomb that killed 12 people along with him, as well as injuring more than 200. Since al-Queda issued threats in 2009, there have been three safety cordons.

Electronically controlled bollards have been installed so no one can drive into the festival grounds with a car or a truck, like in the recent terror attack in the French city of Nice.

This year, some 450 security personnel will be ensuring safety at the Oktoberfest - that's 200 more than last year.

Deutschland Oktoberfest in München
Anti-terror barrier: 180 bollards prevent vehicles from entering the festival groundsImage: picture-alliance/dpa/A. Gebert

The city will have to shell out of a couple of million euros to cover the cost of this additional security. Security companies in times of terror fear and refugee crisis are in high demand and their hourly rate of 60 euros ($ 67) rather expensive. Local media estimates the cost for security guards this year at 3.6 million euros. Added to this will be the expense of a new loudspeaker system for emergency announcements, additional baggage storage areas and 350 meters (1.148 ft) of mobile fencing.

It's expected that these costs will affect prices at next year's festival. "The Oktoberfest can not be done on the cheap, that much is obvious," says spokesman for the beer-sellers Roiderer. He adds "all additional costs will be reflected in the product price." For instance a beer, served in one liter jugs, will this cost between 10.40 and 10.70 euros.

Deutschland Oktoberfest in München
A mobile fence makes a complete temporary lock-down possible in case of mass panicImage: picture-alliance/dpa/L. Barth

How to control the mass of visitors?

The use of mobile fences has been rather controversial. Some worried that they could result in a similar situation like the deadly mass panic and crush at the Love Parade in Duisburg six years ago. The fences, however, are easily dismantled so that in case of a mass panic, attendees will be able to leave the tents as quickly as possible.

The fence was originally planed to prevent over-crowding, which until recently was seen as the greatest security concern at the Oktoberfest. On some days as many as 500,000 people try to squeeze on to the 30-hectare festival grounds, which would make any emergency operations challenging - regardless of whether it's because of an attack, a fire or accident.

Currently, it looks like the greatest challenge for the festival will be having to deal with the mass of visitors, at least over the busy weekends. At which stage we'll find out if the additional baggage storage area will be sufficient, if the security guards will manage the new safety checks at the entrances without causing huge delays.