Weary of refugees, Munich gears up for Oktoberfest

Tue Sep 15, 2015 3:03pm EDT
 
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By Noah Barkin

MUNICH (Reuters) - Germany's decision to restore border controls to stem a tide of refugees may have stunned Europe, but it is being cheered in Munich as it gears up for a far bigger influx of 6 million beer-swigging visitors to the 182nd Oktoberfest.

The annual festival, known here as the "Wiesn" because it is held on the Theresienwiese, an open space near the city center, is a fun-loving celebration where 7.5 million liters of brew are consumed over a two-week period by locals and tourists alike, many decked out in traditional lederhosen and dirndls.

But this year city officials are working overtime to assure the public it will not turn into a "Krisen-Wiesn", or Oktoberfest in crisis, amid a flood of over 60,000 refugees into Munich's train station in the last week alone.

Bavarian Interior Minister Joachim Herrmann raised eyebrows at the weekend by suggesting that refugees descending from trains in Munich, after harrowing journeys from the war-torn Middle East, were likely to encounter crowds of violent drunks returning from the festival, which starts on Saturday.

"Refugees from Muslim countries may not be used to seeing extremely drunk people in public," Herrmann said. "It might seem a bit odd to some of them, if I may say so, but this is the reality."

The risk of that seems to have been greatly reduced since Germany imposed the controls on its border with Austria, cutting the inflow of asylum seekers through Munich to a trickle. Only 765 refugees arrived in the central station on Monday, according to police, down from 13,000 on Saturday.

Herrmann's boss, state premier Horst Seehofer, has been vilified on social media for suggesting that one reason he pressed Chancellor Angela Merkel to impose the controls was so Oktoberfest could go on without a hitch. His comments sparked a new hashtag #Oktoberfestung (October fortress) on Twitter.

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A visitor celebrates as he drinks one of the first mugs of beer after the tapping of the first barrel during the opening ceremony for the 180th Oktoberfest at the Hofbraeu tent in Munich in this September 21, 2013 file photo. REUTERS/Michael Dalder/Files