How the engineers of TÜV SÜD get the ball rolling at the world’s biggest funfair

Take a peek into the past and watch the video of TÜV SÜD experts inspecting Oktoberfest carnival rides in the 1960s and 1970s.
Video: TÜV SÜD

The men in blue TÜV SÜD uniforms climb up the highest roller coasters and crawl into every corner of the tunnel of horror. Not just for fun, but so that Oktoberfest visitors can be sure the fairground rides are safe.

Be it the “Break Dancer,” the “Olympia Coaster,” the fast carousels, or the more tranquil rides: The fun cannot begin until TÜV SÜD’s inspectors have given their seal of approval. Around 170 fairground rides and shows lure millions of people to Munich’s Oktoberfest every year. A truely spectacular event in the international funfair business.

Whether supermodern attractions or nostalgic rides, a great deal of technology lies behind all the fun – and it has to function at all times. To ensure that it does, TÜV SÜD sends 20 inspectors to the Theresienwiese site in the weeks prior to the festival of millions. They inspect literally every screw, and check whether all the safety belts fasten, the frames of the rides are stable and properly mounted, and all the cars are correctly attached to the tracks.

When the operators install the foundations, the inspectors are already there to keep an eye on static equilibrium and structural stability. After the final assembly, they inspect all the safety-relevant components: The wheels, brakes, and electronic controls that are increasingly important for today’s modern, innovative funfair rides. Are the sensors that stop the ride in the event of an emergency reliable?

The men in blue check all the rides down to the last detail – and occasionally enjoy a fantastic view while doing so. When they climb up the line to the highest point of the quintuple loop, the almost fully assembled Oktoberfest fairground stretches out before them – not to mention the Alps on the horizon if the weather is nice. Nevertheless, their sole focus is on the technical structures. As a rule, they rarely find anything wrong: worn out parts that the ride operator needs to replace after the inspection. And last but not least, the inspection pros get to have a bit of fun. To get a final feel for how a children’s carousel or a roller coaster runs, they take a test ride.

TÜV SÜD has been inspecting the rides at the Oktoberfest on behalf of the city of Munich since 1930. These days, the engineers cast their net beyond the world’s largest fair to cover the entire globe. The Temporary Structures department – the official term for rides that are assembled and disassembled – includes 45 experts at TÜV SÜD. Every year, they conduct more than 1,000 inspections worldwide. The New Brighton Oktoberfest in Minnesota, USA, as well as amusement parks in the USA, Asia, Dubai, and Europe, are all subject to the sharp eye of the company from Munich. About 60 percent of the activities of this TÜV SÜD department are carried out around the globe.

Whether they’re talking about roller coasters, carousels, or bumper cars, experts generally distinguish between initial inspections of new systems and prolongation testing, which is comparable to a general inspection on a car. In addition, in-service inspections are carried out after a fairground ride changes location.

In an initial inspection, the TÜV SÜD inspectors first check the construction blueprints and structural analyses. Then they check the assembly and components if necessary. Finally, the ride is tested, including all load-bearing parts as well as electric, hydraulic, and pneumatic systems. Overall, initial inspections include a variety of functional tests and trials, for example, of brakes and safety equipment. The TÜV SÜD experts check construction blueprints annually and structural analysesfor around 300 rides. They perform about 100 acceptance inspections for new ride systems every year.

Prolongation testing is conducted at regular intervals. For example, large and complex rides like a looping rollercoaster require annual inspections, whereas children’s carousels that rotate slowly are tested every five years.

The in-service inspection should ensure that a ride is once again safe and reliable after changing locations, such as from one fair to the next. Generally speaking, the in-service inspections are not conducted by TÜV SÜD, but rather by specially trained employees of the local building authority.

The exception at the Munich Oktoberfest: TÜV SÜD also supports the city of Munich’s local building commission with in-service inspections of fairground rides and provides an appropriate number of experts during the two weeks of construction prior to the festival. To Bavaria’s capital city, it is worth specially deploying TÜV SÜD experts to ensure the best possible safety for all these rides.

Inspectors check wheels and brakes as well as electronic controls.

TÜV SÜD has been present at the “Wiesn” – Munich’s legendary Oktoberfest – since 1881, when TÜV SÜD was still called the “Bavarian Steam Boiler Inspection Association.” Back then, it was the first organization to inspect the massive steam-powered rotary spit set to roast an entire ox at one of the famous beer tents. Today, having moved beyond the world’s largest folk festival, TÜV SÜD’s engineers travel the world. Around the globe, TÜV SÜD’s employees have inspected more than 1,000 fairground rides and temporary structures – any type of portable construction that can be taken apart and put together again.

The experts of TÜV SÜD, however, are the first to point out that there is no such thing as absolute safety. They can ensure safety when it comes to technical issues. But most fairground accidents occur because operators make mistakes. That’s why TÜV SÜD has begun to offer seminars during the week preceding the Munich Oktoberfest, to raise awareness among the staff long before the mayor of Munich taps the first beer barrel and to ensure that everyone really does have fun at the world’s largest funfair.

The man in blue is coming: A TÜV SÜD inspector takes a close look at a car on the waterslide. The experts test every screw, track and ride at Oktoberfest.
Photo: dpa Picture Alliance

Up and down, again and again: roller coaster at Munich’s Oktoberfest in the 1960s.
Photo: Erdoedy Presse

Dizziness: historic photo of a carousel at the world’s largest carnival.
Photo: SZ Photo