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A big fat slice of paradise

There are beer festivals galore in Bavaria. Small ones, huge ones, old ones and new ones. And every Bavarian has his or her own personal favourite. My own is indisputably the Gäuboden Festival in Straubing. Admittedly, it’s the nearest one to my home. But I love the “Gäubodenfest” for a host of other reasons as well. All of them contribute towards creating a very special atmosphere of local identity and tradition harmoniously blended with an aura of discreet cosmopolitanism. Before you continue, I have to issue a brief warning: there’s a danger that after reading this blog article you will experience an urgent need to visit the Gäuboden Festival in person. If you’re prepared to accept this risk, then here we go:

It may be smaller than the Oktoberfest in Munich, but it’s more affordable, with more local revellers and fewer tourists: the Straubing Festival constitutes just the right mixture of size and authenticity. For those of you who are thinking “Strau-what? Never heard of it!”: Straubing is a town in Lower Bavaria, located in the flat, fertile flood plain of the Danube, the Gäuboden.

As a town, Straubing doesn’t have it easy, situated as it is precisely between the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Regensburg and the three-river city of Passau, which attract significantly more tourists. Between these jewels, the rather slumberous town of Straubing unfortunately suffers all too often by comparison. But during the eleven festival days in August, it enters into a period of once-a-year efflorescence – revelry is the rule. It’s no accident that the people in and around Straubing speak of the “fifth season”.

During this time, the all-year-round giant car park“am Hagen” is transformed into a colourful oasis for lovers of beer, Bavarian specialities and brass band music. Fans of big dippers, roundabouts, lottery stalls and shooting galleries also get their money’s worth, of course. From all corners of Germany and the whole world, the good burghers of Straubing find their way back home for the festival. You can be sure of meeting friends from your schooldays again, and people whom you otherwise don’t see the whole year round. The visitors include not only the locals, but also guests from Germany and all over the world. A perfect opportunity to cultivate old friendships and make new ones – a very respectable alcohol level (let’s not delude ourselves here) helps to ensure the requisite bonhomie!

In the total of seven beer tents, the festival beer specialties from four regional breweries are dispensed – in 1-litre tankards, of course. The term “festival beer” is used whenever a special beer is brewed for major festivals. They tend to have somewhat higher alcohol contents; after all, you don’t want gloomy faces at a festival! But a bit of caution is called for, too – the alcohol content shouldn’t be too high, of course; after all, the cunning landlord doesn’t want to render his guests unconscious with a single mug. So the alcohol content fluctuates between approximately 5 and 6 % abv.

The picture only illustrates the described atmosphere and has no advertising purpose. 😉

This 6 % abv already constitutes a solid foundation for a successful evening. Just the evening? That’s what you may be thinking now, but I can put your minds at ease! The tents are already opening their doors as from 11 a.m. To the accompaniment of traditional brass band music, the festival is a popular meeting point at lunchtime as well. But the real party doesn’t begin until the evening.

From about 5 p.m. onwards, the tents begin to fill up. The reserved tables have to be occupied by 6 p.m., and the party band takes the stage as from 7 p.m. And young and old flock happily into the tent in joyful anticipation of a convivial evening. The girls all dolled up in their colourful dirndls, with plaits and not infrequently garlands of flowers in their hair, the guys in knee-length lederhosen, traditional Bavarian-style shirts and jaunty knee socks – mostly in traditional dark green, luscious red or vibrant blue.

The air is wafting evocative aromas of grilled chicken, beer and perspiration. Whereas at first things remain relatively decorous, as the hours go by the mood turns more boisterous. The beer flows copiously, and the regular cries of “Prosit” from the band encourage the revellers. The noise of clinking glasses and mutual toasts is omnipresent. Not forgetting direct eye-contact with the person you’re toasting – that’s an unwritten beer tent law!

More and more guests can no longer sit still. They climb onto the benches, lustily sing “Siieeeerra, siiieeerra Madre del Sur” and start to embrace each other. It doesn’t matter here whether they’re strangers or old friends: even if they didn’t know each other at all when the evening began, by the end they all feel their neighbours at the table are their closest friends. “A big fat slice of paradise” indeed!

At about 23.45 p.m., when last orders are being taken, and the band is playing Robbie Williams’ “Angels”, the absolute classic among the closing-time songs, the evening draws slowly to a close. Those who have a bus or train trip out to the region’s villages in front of them hasten out of the tent heading for the bus stops or the station, while the rest leave the tent at their leisure and go on celebrating at the various bars on the festival grounds. Small groups who refuse to accept that a wonderful evening is coming to a close, remain stubbornly inside the tent, until they are gently but firmly manoeuvred outdoors by the waitresses. But there’s no need to worry: Straubing’s nightlife around the town’s ancient tower also captures in its taverns and bars those visitors who want to delay their homecoming for a while.

When after the persevering search for a taxi or a lift, you’re at last lying snug in your own bed, with the typical soundscape of the beer tent still buzzing in your head, you feel a bit dizzy even though you didn’t go on any of the rides. In an attempt to process the events of the evening, you finally drift off to sleep, exhausted, but happy. The dyed-in-the-wool festival fanatics in the knowledge that on the following afternoon the insidious thought will surely rise temptingly to the surface of your mind: “Oh, a shandy wouldn’t be a bad idea right now …”

For everyone who has meanwhile been irresistibly seized with an urge to visit the Gäuboden Festival themselves: this year, it’s being held from Friday, 10 August to Monday, 20 August 2018. You will find all the important information about it here.

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