Achtung! How Oktoberfest Looks From The First-Aid Station

At Munich’s Oktoberfest, an hour-by-hour account of the emergencies, medical and otherwise, when all the beer-drinking and dirndl-chasing go too far. (Note: Watch out for the Aussies.)

One at a time, dear...
One at a time, dear...
Anna Fischhaber

MUNICH This year's edition of the world's favorite beer party, Oktoberfest, is underway in this southern German city. For a unique perspective on the darker (and drunker) side of the annual event, Suddeutsche Zeitung monitored one day from the celebration's state-of-the-art Red Cross first-aid station, where 100 volunteer paramedics and 10 doctors look after the inebriated and otherwise wiped-out, worn-down and beat-up.

Here's an hour-by-hour chronicle:

Noon. The security man at reception shows his damaged thumb, saying "more and more guests pinch and bite." Right now it’s still quiet, and most patients can still stand.

1:10 p.m. A man wearing lederhosen and a bloody headband is brought in. He fell off a bench. Behind a grey door marked "Akutbehandlung" (Acute Treatment) lies an older man hooked up to a lot of tubes — heart trouble. He’s going to have to go to the hospital. More complicated cases can’t be dealt with here although last year they did reanimate a man whose heart had stopped.

2:05 p.m. English-speaking Lucy, in a red dirndl and “Kiss Me” necklace, arrives ripe for a lie-down, although she claims not to have drunk all that much. Are there really people willing to spend their free time looking after drunks? The station’s head of operations looks offended by my question. We like to help people here, she says. Anyway, guests are nicer here than they are in the beer tent, where she used to work. "Sure, you need to be determined," she says. "But hardly anybody is aggressive. On the contrary: I've never seen so many men crying before in my life."

Photo: Instagram/Billy Panter

2:10 p.m. In the monitoring area, only 13 beds are showing green lights. Green means not occupied. Yellow means occupied. Red means send home. Blue means hospital.

2:20 p.m. The paramedics are in constant radio touch with colleagues working the Fest grounds with stretchers. Bulletins come in non-stop, like "Moritz 3 — over." Moritz is the code word for poisoning. Moritz 3 stands for an inebriated person.

2:25 p.m. A team in the beer tent radios. They need a rescue vehicle. Spine injury. The Red Cross has been working the Oktoberfest for 130 years. They wore uniforms in the old days, and pushed wheelbarrows. Nowadays things are more comfortable for patients — stretchers are usually used, covered so that the patient has some privacy, unless as in this case an ambulance is needed.

3:01 p.m. "You need to take a cold tablet." That’s been the most-heard recommendation at reception all day so far. Certain things the infirmary can’t help people with, but they do give out free headache pain relief and tampons, along with blister plasters. "There must have been another delivery of new shoes," says a helper fetching another pack. In 16 days, the Red Cross hands out some 1,500 free bandages.

4:10 p.m. From the monitoring room, a girl calls out in English, "Oh, this is horrible." She then falls asleep. Next to her Lucy wakes up and runs to a mirror. Not a good idea, but luckily there’s a bucket within reach. Lucy doesn’t want to go back to sleep, though. She wants to party. "No beer, just to socialize!" she says. She applies lipstick, jams some gum into her mouth, and is off before anybody can make her aware of the vomit stains on her dirndl. The team hopes they won’t see her again, but "we have a lot of regulars here," says one doctor. "Some people come in several times a day."

Photo: Jason Paris/Flickr

4:26 p.m. At the back entrance a surgeon, an orthopedist and a cardiologist wait for new patients to be brought to them. All three have been working here for three years, and they know all the horror stories: about the American who bit off his girlfriend’s whole lower lip, about the Australian who got his penis caught in his zipper. Or what happened just yesterday: the tongue that had to be disentangled from some braces. "It’s great working here, there’s always something going on," says a young doctor. "Personally, I only go to Oktoberfest before 8 p.m. After that it’s just too dangerous."

5:30 p.m So far, reception has handed out five headache pills, 60 bandages and has dealt with seven "other" cases.

6:48 p.m. Space is getting tight outside the treatment room. A drunk American woman is looking for her boyfriend, then her cigarettes. One young girl feels so sick she’s crying. And "Julius-three-steins-found-lying-in-the-Bavaria-area" is delivered on a stretcher. Julius doesn’t look as if he’s going to wake up anytime soon. "You can still get through to him, he just can’t say a lot," a paramedic explains. The gong signaling that a stretcher is needed is now going off regularly and the cleaning team has gotten very busy.

6.50 p.m. A man collapses onto a chair in front of the treatment room. His eye is watering. A beer stein hit him full on. "Cornea, this is dangerous. We can’t do anything here," the doctor says. To the patient he tries to get across in English. "Eye. Krankenhaus hospital. You understand?" Anyone working at the station must speak some English. Most of the patients are Australian, the doctor relates, followed by Brits and quite a few hysterical Americans.

7.06 p.m. The police bring in a man with blood on his shirt. "Watch out, here’s the guy who threw the stein," an officer calls as they lead in a brawny Australian in handcuffs. His ear looks mangled, and blood runs down his neck. Both he and the man he attacked require stitches and their beds are separated only by a blue curtain. It’s starting to get very tight in the treatment room, and the officers stay to make sure the men don’t start fighting again. Nobody can say what really happened, only that the Australian seemed to have started it.

7:30 p.m. Now it’s full out in the hall, too. An exasperated mother fetches her 17-year-old son who after several hours in the monitoring area appears surprisingly sober. The Australian with the bloody ear is led off. "He’s in for one hefty sentence," a doctor says. The man is laughing, blows a kiss at a female paramedic and disappears singing.

Photo: Instagram/Ivana Medvecova

8:15 p.m. Adam is pissed off and keeps repeating "Fuck." Then he starts to cry. He has a black eye and his nose is bleeding. It is everybody’s fault but his, of course, and now his friend has gone and disappeared. Near him, two young men are looking for their British friend – she couldn’t get into the tent, she was too drunk. The WC attendant reports that she fell in the toilets and had to be carried away. "Name?" the person at reception asks the two men and looks at his computer screen. Then he says the station has five patients that weren’t in good enough shape to give their names, maybe she’s one of them. "Come back later," he tells the men.

8:17 p.m. There’s a happy end for Adam. His friend suddenly shows up. The two hug and head off to the beer tent.

10:50 p.m.: The beer tent may have closed, but not the first-aid station. The police are now bringing in all those found out cold on the ground. The day’s tally runs: 402 patients, 114 persons requiring stretchers, 36 cases of alcohol intoxication, 34 wounds requiring surgical procedures, 39 transfers to nearby hospitals. At the station they call this a quiet day, nothing special to report.

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7 Ways The Pandemic May Change The Airline Industry For Good

Will flying be greener? More comfortable? Less frequent? As the world eyes a post-COVID reality, we look at ways the airline industry has been changing through a pandemic that has devastated air travel.

Ready for (a different kind of) takeoff?

Carl-Johan Karlsson

It's hard to overstate the damage the pandemic has had on the airline industry, with global revenues dropping by 40% in 2020 and dozens of airlines around the world filing for bankruptcy. One moment last year when the gravity became particularly apparent was when Asian carriers (in countries with low COVID-19 rates) began offering "flights to nowhere" — starting and ending at the same airport as a way to earn some cash from would-be travelers who missed the in-flight experience.

More than a year later today, experts believe that air traffic won't return to normal levels until 2024.

But beyond the financial woes, the unprecedented slowdown in air travel may bring some silver linings as key aspects of the industry are bound to change once back in full spin, with some longer-term effects on aviation already emerging. Here are some major transformations to expect in the coming years:

Cleaner aviation fuel

The U.S. administration of President Joe Biden and the airline industry recently agreed to the ambitious goal of replacing all jet fuel with sustainable alternatives by 2050. Already in a decade, the U.S. aims to produce three billion gallons of sustainable fuel — about one-tenth of current total use — from waste, plants and other organic matter.

While greening the world's road transport has long been at the top of the climate agenda, aviation is not even included under the Paris Agreement. But with air travel responsible for roughly 12% of all CO2 emissions from transport, and stricter international regulation on the horizon, the industry is increasingly seeking sustainable alternatives to petroleum-based fuel.

Fees imposed on the airline industry should be funneled into a climate fund.

In Germany, state broadcaster Deutsche Welle reports that the world's first factory producing CO2-neutral kerosene recently started operations in the town of Wertle, in Lower Saxony. The plant, for which Lufthansa is set to become the pilot customer, will produce CO2-neutral kerosene through a circular production cycle incorporating sustainable and green energy sources and raw materials. Energy is supplied through wind turbines from the surrounding area, while the fuel's main ingredients are water and waste-generated CO2 coming from a nearby biogas plant.

Farther north, Norwegian Air Shuttle has recently submitted a recommendation to the government that fees imposed on the airline industry should be funneled into a climate fund aimed at developing cleaner aviation fuel, according to Norwegian news site E24. The airline also suggested that the government significantly reduce the tax burden on the industry over a longer period to allow airlines to recover from the pandemic.

Black-and-white photo of an ariplane shot from below flying across the sky and leaving condensation trails

High-flying ambitions for the sector

Joel & Jasmin Førestbird

Hydrogen and electrification

Some airline manufacturers are betting on hydrogen, with research suggesting that the abundant resource has the potential to match the flight distances and payload of a current fossil-fuel aircraft. If derived from renewable resources like sun and wind power, hydrogen — with an energy-density almost three times that of gasoline or diesel — could work as a fully sustainable aviation fuel that emits only water.

One example comes out of California, where fuel-cell specialist HyPoint has entered a partnership with Pennsylvania-based Piasecki Aircraft Corporation to manufacture 650-kilowatt hydrogen fuel cell systems for aircrafts. According to HyPoint, the system — scheduled for commercial availability product by 2025 — will have four times the energy density of existing lithium-ion batteries and double the specific power of existing hydrogen fuel-cell systems.

Meanwhile, Rolls-Royce is looking to smash the speed record of electrical flights with a newly designed 23-foot-long model. Christened the Spirit of Innovation, the small plane took off for the first time earlier this month and successfully managed a 15-minute long test flight. However, the company has announced plans to fly the machine faster than 300 mph (480 km/h) before the year is out, and also to sell similar propulsion systems to companies developing electrical air taxis or small commuter planes.

New aircraft designs

Airlines are also upgrading aircraft design to become more eco-friendly. Air France just received its first upgrade of a single-aisle, medium-haul aircraft in 33 years. Fleet director Nicolas Bertrand told French daily Les Echos that the new A220 — that will replace the old A320 model — will reduce operating costs by 10%, fuel consumption and CO2 emissions by 20% and noise footprint by 34%.

International first class will be very nearly a thing of the past.

The pandemic has also ushered in a new era of consumer demand where privacy and personal space is put above luxury. The retirement of older aircraft caused by COVID-19 means that international first class — already in steady decline over the last decades — will be very nearly a thing of the past. Instead, airplane manufacturers around the world (including Delta, China Eastern, JetBlue, British Airways and Shanghai Airlines) are betting on a new generation of super-business minisuites where passengers have a privacy door. The idea, which was introduced by Qatar Airways in 2017, is to offer more personal space than in regular business class but without the lavishness of first class.

Aerial view of Rome's Fiumicino airport

Aerial view of Rome's Fiumicino airport

Hygiene rankings  

Rome's Fiumicino Airport has become the first in the world to earn "the COVID-19 5-Star Airport Rating" from Skytrax, an international airline and airport review and ranking site, Italian daily La Repubblica reports. Skytrax, which publishes a yearly annual ranking of the world's best airports and issues the World Airport Awards, this year created a second list to specifically call out airports with the best health and hygiene standards.

Smoother check-in

​The pandemic has also accelerated the shift towards contactless traveling, with more airports harnessing the power of biometrics — such as facial recognition or fever screening — to reduce touchpoints and human contact. Similar technology can also be used to more efficiently scan physical objects, such as explosive detection. Ultimately, passengers will be able to "check-in" and go through a security screening anywhere at the airports, removing queues and bottlenecks.

Data privacy issues

​However, as pointed out in Canadian publication The Lawyer's Daily, increased use of AI and biometrics also means increased privacy concerns. For example, health and hygiene measures like digital vaccine passports also mean that airports can collect data on who has been vaccinated and the type of vaccine used.

Photo of planes at Auckland airport, New Zealand

Auckland Airport, New Zealand

Douglas Bagg

The billion-dollar question: Will we fly less?

At the end of the day, even with all these (mostly positive) changes that we've seen take shape over the past 18 months, the industry faces major uncertainty about whether air travel will ever return to the pre-COVID levels. Not only are people wary about being in crowded and closed airplanes, but the worth of long-distance business travel in particular is being questioned as many have seen that meetings can function remotely, via Zoom and other online apps.

Trying to forecast the future, experts point to the years following the 9/11 terrorist attacks as at least a partial blueprint for what a recovery might look like in the years ahead. Twenty years ago, as passenger enthusiasm for flying waned amid security fears following the attacks, airlines were forced to cancel flights and put planes into storage.

40% of Swedes intend to travel less

According to McKinsey, leisure trips and visits to family and friends rebounded faster than business flights, which took four years to return to pre-crisis levels in the UK. This time too, business travel is expected to lag, with the consulting firm estimating only 80% recovery of pre-pandemic levels by 2024.

But the COVID-19 crisis also came at a time when passengers were already rethinking their travel habits due to climate concerns, while worldwide lockdowns have ushered in a new era of remote working. In Sweden, a survey by the country's largest research company shows that 40% of the population intend to travel less even after the pandemic ends. Similarly in the UK, nearly 60% of adults said during the spring they intended to fly less after being vaccinated against COVID-19 — with climate change cited as a top reason for people wanting to reduce their number of flights, according to research by the University of Bristol.

At the same time, major companies are increasingly forced to face the music of the environmental movement, with several corporations rolling out climate targets over the last few years. Today, five of the 10 biggest buyers of corporate air travel in the US are technology companies: Amazon, IBM, Google, Apple and Microsoft, according to Taipei Times, all of which have set individual targets for environmental stewardship. As such, the era of flying across the Atlantic for a two-hour executive meeting is likely in its dying days.

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