Gäubodenvolksfest is the biggest Bavarian beer festival you may have never heard of. Named for the small region of Gäuboden where the event has been held since the early 1800’s, Gäubodenvolksfest is a colorful, traditional event in Straubing hosting 1.4 million visitors over its eleven-day run each August. That makes it Bavaria’s second-largest folk festival next to Oktoberfest.
The Gäuboden is a vaguely defined region (not a political sub-division) that consists of a long valley along the Danube river between Wörth an der Donau and Künzing. The town of Straubing is in the middle of this stretch and is the largest in the Gauboden with about 50,000 people. The soil in this stretch of valley is very fertile and I’ve seen it called “the granary of Bavaria” which is a perfect explanation for the excellent breweries there.
People have inhabited the Gäuboden since Neolithic times and Straubing traces its history to Roman times BC. A part of Straubing that is still called “new town” was established by Duke Ludwig Wittelsbach of Bavaria in the 1200’s and makes an attractive medieval core that I passed through on my way from the train station to the festival place.
Five area breweries each brew special fest beers that are served up in seven large beer tents called festzelts that have a cumulative 27,000 seats. Festzelt Greindl and Festzelt Nothaft serve beers from the Karmeliten Brewery, Festzelt Krönner serves beer from Schlossbrauerei Irlbach, Festzelt Lechner and Festzelt Weckmann serve Röhrl Brau, Festzelt Reisinger serves Reisinger beers from Arcobrau, and Festzelt Wenisch serves beer from Erl Brau, A midway with rides, games, and carnival food connects things together.
All five of the breweries are family operations located in Straubing or nearby. Karmeliten and Röhrl have monastery roots dating to the 1300’s and 1400’s respectively although both are family operations now. Eril Brau is a fifth-generation family operation. Schlossbrauerei Irlbach has more than 500 years of brewing history, and Arcobrau, founded by a Count in the 1500’s is owned by a descendant of Bavarian King Ludwig. There is a lot of history behind this set of beers.
Gäubodenvolksfest started as an agricultural fair and there are displays of the latest farm equipment and implements in a section of the festival called Ostbayernschau (Eastern Bavaria Show), a big consumer exhibition with hundreds of exhibitors. The whole thing had the feel of a State Fair in the USA with the welcome addition of huge beer venues and excellent beers. There is a distinctly local feel at Gäubodenvolksfest — I didn’t encounter a single other foreigner in my time there.
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A shout-out and special thanks go to my couchsurfing.com friend Beate Christowiak who lives in Straubing. Beate graciously volunteered to show me around a bit and help me to get oriented to Straubing and Gäubodenvolksfest improving my experience by a considerable amount.
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