Fed up with its reputation as an alcohol-soaked free-for-all, organisers are attempting to  make this year's drinking binge more family-friendly.

The event in the southern city of Munich, which began in the 19th century as a royal wedding celebration, is a major draw for feather-capped farmers and their wives.

About six million people descend on the giant fairgrounds each year -15% of them from abroad- to endlessly guzzle beer.

But with every swig, the binge has acquired some notoriety as well.

With 60% of the partygoers being under 30 years, the festival often makes for a sexually explosive cocktail.

Sex Offences

"You have a lot of alcohol coming together with a sexualised atmosphere," says Maike Bublitz, co-founder of the new women's "Security Point" at the Oktoberfest.

"It begins with groping of women and goes all the way to rape, year after year," she says.

Eleven sex crimes including six rapes were reported in 2002 at the event, up 18% on the year before.

But Bublitz says the actual numbers could be 10 to 20 times higher.

But this year onwards, the drinkers would expectedly have to rein in their sexual drives.

The Security Point would provide women and girls a safe haven, assistance and help to get home.

"You have a lot of alcohol coming together with a sexualised atmosphere"

Maike Bublitz
Security Point

The organisers also plan to launch a major billboard campagin at the fairgrounds with the slogan "A beer, a piece of chicken, a smooch and then…sexual assault?" to raise awareness of the problem.

Sobering

"We don’t want to spoil anyone's fun. We just want make sure that women are also able to enjoy themselves and feel safe here," Bublitz says.

Two women sought assistance at the opening night of this year's event on Saturday, but organisers declined to give further details.

Police spokesman Andy Ruch said the number of drunken brawls began to soar at sunset, some involving the giant glass mugs - steiners - used to serve beer.