Oktoberfest isn’t the only folk festival in Munich. Another popular festival takes place three times a year on the Mariahilfplatz square – it’s relaxed, neighbourly and traditional. Our author spent an afternoon looking around.
I’m on my way to the Mariahilfplatz (square) in search of a certain feeling…As soon as the scent of roasted almonds, sausages and grilled fish hits my nose, I know I’ve got a pretty good chance of finding it here. The streets around the square are bustling with people. There’s a special buzz in the air, created by the combination of lots of people, magnificent weather and a collective entrepreneurial spirit.
The Auer Dult is both a market and folk festival. It takes place three times a year with a different name on each occasion: It’s called Maidult in spring, Jakobidult in summer, and Kirchweihdult in autumn. Marker traders and showmen have been setting up their stalls on Mariahilfplatz since 1905, so the Dult, which translates roughly as “church festival”, has a long tradition. And its history goes even further back in time, as the first ever Dult was held over 700 years ago – in 1310 on what is now known as Sankt-Jakobs-Platz (square). The extremely popular Auer Dult attracts up to 290,000 visitors a year, making it a real institution in Munich’s city life.
I like to think of Munich as the city of little great moments: watching the sun go down over the River Isar as you gently cycle over the Reichenbach Bridge, visiting your first beer garden of the year, taking an early morning stroll through the sleepy old town, or watching surfers take on the Eisbachwelle river wave on a sunny afternoon… It’s at times like these when you can’t imagine a nicer place in the world, simply because you’re absorbed by the grandiose spectacle unfolding right in front of you.
These are the moments that define the local feeling. Munich wouldn’t be my home without them; it would just be yet another city. And that’s exactly the feeling I hope to find today at the Dult. After all, the quaint fairground rides, traditional market stalls, relaxed customers and culinary treats make the Auer Dult the ideal place to find another little great Munich moment. With this in mind, I enter the fray and visit my first stall.
Raymund Hürland, 83, has been working at the Auer Dult for over 20 years. He’s one of the many antique dealers here, and he gets my visit under way with a nice tip: Go with the flow. Hürland explains that nobody’s in a hurry at the Auer Dult; people have time for a chat, and there’s something for everyone. And can you discover a real treasure? “Absolutely”, says Hürland. “But most people have incredibly poor taste”. —“Will you take 15 euros for the ugly frogs back there?”, jokes someone who’s been listening in on our conversation, eyeing up a couple of ceramic figures. He agrees. Raymund Hürland is pleased.
I heed his advice and stroll on. Towards the end of the alley, the antique dealers slowly make way for stalls selling crockery and pottery. I’m always excited by plates, bowls and mugs. I could spend hours looking through the goods on offer. I’m immediately struck by the fact that the Auer Dult market isn’t an open-air museum kept alive by contrived folklore; people actually come here to shop. This is also confirmed by the toy seller who’s been at the Auer Dult since 1980. Why does he return every year? “Business is booming”.
Besides a selection of decorative ornaments and souvenirs, most of the goods on offer are very much meant to meet everyday needs. A little further along, in Neuheitengasse, I don’t just find flamboyantly advertised vegetable peelers, but also baking tins, car polish and socks. My attention is grabbed by a salad spinner, vegetable knife and mug with my name on; my decision to buy the mug is mainly driven by nostalgia: I had an almost identical one at primary school, until it fell and smashed.
As you walk past the stalls, inquisitively picking up the odd object and observing people, you realise things are a little different at the Auer Dult –neighbourly, traditional, but, above all, incredibly relaxed. The same can even be said when you leave the stalls selling household goods and enter the corner with fairground rides. Things might get a bit faster and louder, but there’s still a general leisureliness about the place.
If you’re looking for the ultimate adrenaline rush, Mariahilfplatz isn’t exactly the place to be. You won’t find any roller coasters here; there’s a swing ride, coconut shy and “Russian wheel”. The 14-metre small “big wheel” was first set up at the Auer Dult in 1925, and the third generation is now sitting in the ticket booth. This really is the place to go with the flow, chat with the owners and smile as grandmas and granddads give their grandchildren an unforgettable ride in a bumper car.
If you pay attention as you walk past the stalls, you might even discover the odd peculiarity that you’ll only ever find at the Auer Dult…The “Royal Bavarian Court Photographers”, Cornelia and Nikolaus von Fürstenberg, are one such peculiarity. They claim to be the only aristocratic performers in Germany and come here with their mobile photo studio. You can try on some costumes, and a little bit of digital processing will make your photo look like it was taken some 100 years ago.
And before I know it, it’s there… my little great Munich moment, the feeling that there can’t be a nicer place on earth, when you’re completely absorbed by the wonderfulness around you.
This stall has been at the Auer Dult for over forty years, and while the von Fürstenbergs have only been there since Maidult 2018, they already feel like part of the Dult family. “Nobody makes us feel like we’re new here”, says Cornelia Fürstenberg. “Everyone’s really nice”. They particularly like visiting their neighbour, Jürgen Braren, who has a sausage stall. “All sausages are designed by myself and made according to organic standards”, says Jürgen. His tasty treat is rounded off with a nice dollop of ginger-apple mustard. There’s a different smell coming from each corner with smoked pork belly, stone-baked bread, apple fritters and sausages. It’s not easy to choose a stall.
I just can’t decide which one to visit, but then I read a sign that takes the difficult decision out of my hands: It reads “Fischer-Vroni – Alt Münchner Steckerlfischbraterei” (Vroni the Fisherman – Old Munich Fish Grill). I recognise the lettering from Oktoberfest, where grilled fish is part of my annual tradition. But the good thing about the Auer Dult is you don’t have to queue up forever, and you can quickly find a seat.
The sun is shining, the shandy is sparkling in my beer mug, and I’ve got a fresh pretzel and some grilled char in front of me. The people sitting next to me are talking quite excitedly about the historic film poster they’ve just bought at an antique stall. And before I know it, it’s there… my little great Munich moment, the feeling that there can’t be a nicer place on earth, when you’re completely absorbed by the wonderfulness around you. And if I ever lose this feeling for a while, at least I know the next Auer Dult is just around the corner.