Oktoberfest Revelry Begins in Munich Amid Refugee Crisis
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Riding the same rails taken by thousands of asylum-seeking refugees, masses of revelers converged on Munich, Germany to celebrate Oktoberfest — an iconic event in the city’s calendar year. Even with border controls keeping refugee crowds at a minimum, the ongoing crisis was not lost on residents and visitors, the Associated Press reported.
Around 6 million people are expected for 2015’s 182nd Oktoberfest, slated to run through Oct. 4. The festivities began Saturday with Mayor Dieter Reiter hammering a tap into the ceremonial first keg, with a shout of "O'zapft is!" — "It's tapped!" the AP said.
Often crowded with refugees in the past few weeks, Munich’s main train station is now awash with tens of thousands of Oktoberfest revelers. Walking from the station to Theresienwiese, the nearby festival site, some are decked out in the traditional Bavarian lederhosen and dirndl dresses, the AP said.
This first day of festivities did see a few dozen asylum-seekers show up in the city from the southern border of Germany, the AP noted, but they were led away by police.
Munich police spokesperson Simon Hegewald told the AP the train station stayed calm and authorities were “well prepared.”
Federal police said via the AP, that the number of asylum seekers crossing the border from Austria has declined over the last few days to less than 2,000 on Friday.
A procedure for sharing the migrant load has begun since border controls were instituted in Germany last week. Migrants entering the country are transported to the border town of Freilassing, and then put on a bus or train to be distributed across the nation, according to the AP. Officials indicated, via the AP, that four of these trains will be departing Freilassing this weekend.
"Life in Munich will go on, and it has gone on for several weeks, despite the massive influx of refugees," Linda Benedickt, a 43-year-old writer from Munich said to the AP. She is not necessarily pro-Oktoberfest, "because people spend an awful lot of money getting mindlessly drunk, but it is part of the city."
Sallent, Spain’s Marc Reig, celebrating Oktoberfest with friends, expressed compassion for the asylum-seekers.
"Today and tomorrow we are celebrating, but we aren't forgetting the refugees," Reig, a 25-year-old physicist decked out in Bavarian lederhosen, told the AP.
Once finished partying, Reig and his buddies plan to give out Lego toys to refugee children. "We know the Bavarian government is providing food and accommodation for them. But we want to have a present for some of the kids," he said to the AP.
For details on Oktoberfest 2015 happenings, check out the official website.
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