Anyone passing by the Wiesn in the next few weeks will see preparations underway for the world’s most mammoth beer festival. Oktoberfest will be rolling into Munich next month like an invading army, and in the weeks leading up to 21st September it will almost be possible to feel a collective intake of breath in anticipation. Soon the joyous multitude in dirndls and lederhosen will be upon us, and the air will resound to the chiming bell note of Maß clinking on Maß and 1970s pop songs that didn’t sound much better the first time round.
Get ready. It’s coming.
What is less known to a surprisingly large number of people who live here, however, is Oktoberfest’s little brother festival that takes place in Dachau this month. The Dachau Volksfest runs from 10th – 19th August. And it’s a gem.
For one thing, the setting is perfect. Dachau is one of the prettiest old world towns in Munich’s hinterland, and is just 20 minutes on the S2 from Hauptbahnhof. The festival grounds are in easy walking distance from the train station.
For another thing, it’s much more relaxed. The Dachau Fest has all the fun of Oktoberfest – no key element, from Hosen to Hendel, from Dirndl to Dunkles, is neglected – but without the manic intensity. It’s attended overwhelmingly by local people and has retained its traditional village fête atmosphere. You are less likely to be accosted by a drunken Australian asking if you can help them find their passport or if you don’t feel like that if you’d rather have sex with them instead. It’s much easier to find a place at a table, and it’s very family friendly.
But above all else, the Dachau Volksfest has one over-riding USP. The beer. It’s good, very good. Dachau’s Schlossbrauerei has been around since 1608 – that’s 12 years before the Mayflower landed on Plymouth Rock – and produces an amber nectar to rival the best of Munich’s big six breweries. And not only is it good, it is almost surreally cheap. The Dachau Volksfest prides itself in offering the cheapest Maß litre of beer in Bavaria. Last year the organisers were almost embarrassed to announce that they had been forced to raise the price above the psychologically important €5 mark, and a Maß will now cost €5.30.
That’s not a typo. A litre of very fine beer costs just over €5. Contrast that with this year’s Oktoberfest, where you’ll be asked to pay up to €9.85 for the same.
If you want to experience the Bavarian beer festival equivalent of a pre-season warm-up game before the Champions League kicks off in September, pop along to Dachau next week. If you are a tourist and you’re reading this, go along and get a feel for what Oktoberfest is like, albeit on a smaller – but no less enjoyable for that – scale.
10th – 19th August
From Munich: S2 from Hauptbahnhof in the direction of Dachau or Petershausen (trains depart every 20 minutes). The festival is an approx. 10 minute walk from Dachau Bahnhof – just follow the signs (or the people in traditional dress). Alternatively, take a short taxi ride from the taxi rank in front of Dachau Bahnhof.