It was the best of times, it was the wurst of times at this year’s 52nd annual Wurstfest, a celebration of all things German.
A group of friends joins in with the rest of the crowd by holding their cups in the air to make a toast while singing along to the traditional “Ein Prosit” song. Photo by: Erin MacInerney
By: Morgan Bridges, Erin Griffin, Erin MacInerney, Jamie Pross
(Click to listen to the Chardon Polka Band perform live in the Stelzenplatz Biergarten at Wurstfest)
(Click to watch a first-person view of the festival)
NEW BRAUNFELS- Sprechen sie fun? Hint: say yes!
Don’t worry, you needn’t speak German to enjoy the revelry of Wurstfest, the 10-day salute to sausage.
But if you really want to delve into the culture that makes up this Oktoberfest- inspired event, knowing a few phrases will help you to fit in among the lederhosen clad festival-goers.
The small town of New Braunfels, Texas welcomes over 100,000 visitors to the festival each November.
The smell of kartoffelpuffer (potato pancakes), strudel, schnitzel, and other dishes you may have a hard time pronouncing, waft throughout the tents of the festival grounds.
For people like Sammi Guerrero, Wurstfest is an annual family tradition.
“I have been going every year since I was born,” says Guerrero. “My whole family goes at least three days out of the ten days it is held each year.”
Guerrero’s 21-year streak (or 22 if you count the time she was still in her mother’s belly) is nothing compared to her father, Roland, who has been going every year since the early 1970’s.
Roland’s father, Larry Guerrero, has been joining the family for as long as he can remember. Larry may use a walker but the minute Grammy Award-winning polka artist Jimmy Sturr and his Orchestra start playing, Guerrero can’t help but get up and dance.
“Everyone loves my grandpa and when they see him dancing, they can’t help but join,” says Sammi Guerrero. “I love getting to come with him each year and watch him make people smile.”
One of the Guerrero’s favorite parts of the festival is sharing a pitcher of German lager. Roland recounts when a pitcher of beer was a dollar compared to the now almost 30 dollar pitchers being sold.
While grandpa dances to the polka music, the rest of the family heads to the biergarten, part of the newly renovated Stelzenplatz hall.
With more than 30 craft beers from all over the nation and a few specialty German beers, Wurstfest is known for drinking.
Welcome to Wurstfest! Do you speak fun? A diverse crowd enters the fairgrounds to enjoy a day filled with sausage, music, and a variety of other entertainment. Photo by: Erin MacInerney
All of the drink stands at Wurstfest are stocked with cups so that festivalgoers can share their pitchers of beer – or have an easier time keeping it all to themselves. Photo by: Erin Griffin
Festivalgoers watch the Chardon Polka Band perform at the Biergarten in the Stelzenplatz. Photo by: Erin Griffin
The Chardon Polka Band captivates the crowd by encouraging them to sing along to familiar songs. Jake Kouwe, the lead singer of the band, started to play the accordion at age fourteen.
Gator the Clown stops to pose for a picture with some kids while parents snap photos. Gator can be seen roaming around the festival sporting a smile and cracking jokes. Photo by: Erin Griffin
There is a lot of commotion and excitement in the Das Grosse Tent (big tent) on weekend nights. Festivalgoers mingle and interact with one another creating an inviting environment. Photo by: Erin MacInerney
On Saturday night, a group of friends built a beer pitcher tower in the Das Grosse Zelt (big tent). A crowd formed to see how high the tower would stack. Photo by: Erin MacInerney
Wurstfest offers many different kinds of domestic, imported and craft beers for purchase. A pitcher of Shiner Oktoberfest and pitcher of Coors Light are shown here. Photo by: Erin MacInerney
Simon Esteva dances and cheers along with his friends to the “Ein Prosit” song in the Das Grosse Tent (big tent) Saturday Night. Photo by: Erin MacInerney
A volunteer at the New Braunfels Rotary Club booth prepares potato pancakes for a growing line of hungry costumers. This vendor is one of the most popular – and encourages its costumers to add applesauce to go along with their wurst and pancakes. Photo by: Erin MacInerney
Here is a close look at the New Braunfels Rotary Club’s potato pancakes, wurst, and applesauce. It tasted delicious. Photo by: Erin MacInerney
The Wurstfest Orquestra plays in the Wursthalle and invites people to polka dance along to their music. Photo by: Erin MacInerney
A volunteer serves a pitcher of beer at one of the drink booths in the Wursthalle. This particular bar offers beer as well as wine and soft drinks. Photo by: Erin MacInerney
Steve Schulz (OPA) and Don Brawner (Kleine OPA) are part of the Wurstfest Organization and volunteer at the yearly festival. Their different color vests signify their ranking in the organization. Photo by: Erin MacInerney
The merry go round is a popular attraction for children at Wurstfest’s carnival. At night the lights of all the attractions create a pretty glow and add to the fun atmosphere of the festival. Photo by: Erin MacInerney
In the Marktplatz there are 36 vendors with different types of wurst (German sausage). Wurst is commonly served on a stick with bread rolls attached to the bottom. Photo by: Erin Griffin
Another popular food item in the Marktplatz are the turkey legs. Eager festivalgoers stand in long lines in order to enjoy this treat. Photo by: Erin MacInerney
A polka band called 3rd Generation performs Sunday evening in the Das Kleine Zelt (Little Tent). Many couples and families dance around to end their evening on a happy note. Photo by: Erin MacInerney
A couple stops at the hat vendor in the Marktplatz to purchase a silly hat. Many festivalgoers can be seen wearing silly hats with themes ranging from drunken chickens to Vikings. Photo by: Erin MacInerney
A man watching the Chardon Polka Band is seen sporting a tyrolean hat, a traditional Bavarian piece that is normally paired with lederhosen. Photo by: Erin Griffin
A vendor in the Marktplatz sells collectible beer steins. The booth has over 200 unique and authentic steins made of different kinds of stoneware. Photo by: Erin MacInerney
The Das Grosse Zelt in the evening is full of movement and excitement. This Sunday evening the crowd is waiting for the next polka band to start performing. Photo by: Erin MacInerney
Guests make it a point to collect as many plastic beer pitchers as they can down, and that crashing sound you just heard? It was a pyramid of pitchers stacked up falling to the ground, a common sight among the beer hall.
Despite the vast alcohol consumption, Wurstfest Associations members make sure that the fest is centered around good family fun.
Another important part of the festival are the traditional German clothes, lederhosen worn by men and dirndl’s worn by women.
Click here to learn more about the history of Wurstfest
“A lot of people want to be dressed up for the event,” says Paula Kater, owner of the Kuckuck’s Nest in Fredericksburg, Texas. “Every year, sales pick up and people want to get more and more into it. Even the younger generations want to dress up.”
Kater emphasizes that the outfits she dresses her customers in are not costumes, but authentic clothing of her heritage.
“Every one is an original straight from Germany,” says Kater.
Kater was impressed to find such a large German influence in the Texas Hill Country when she arrived here from Ludwigshafen, Germany 15 years ago.
She travels all over the nation providing outfits for people attending Okterberfest events but says Wurstfest has always been her favorite.
“Wurstfest is one of the biggest,” says Kater. “It is the elite of all of them, even the ones up north.”
(A supplementary video from Wurstfest. How to sing one of the favorite songs, Ein Prosit!)
James Forrest started frequenting the Hole in the Wall as a UT student 20 years ago.
He sat on a red diner barstool with a beer in hand. A giant hole in the red plastic peeked out from underneath him. Randy Echels has been going to the Hole in the Wall since it opened in 1974. It has proven to be a place of cheap beer and live music for 41 years. Hole in the Wall, or the Hole to its regulars, is now in danger of closing when its lease expires at the end of this year. Rising rent rates have threatened the future of yet another Austin music venue.
Austin’s booming real estate market has led to increased land values, and has increased rent for music venues. Encor Realty group, which manages the building of the Hole in the Wall on Guadalupe Street, implied in earlier reports that they had kept rent down as long as possible.
Dive bars such as the Hole have struggled to keep up with rising rents, yet owner Will Tanner is hopeful that an agreement can be reached. Advocacy group Austin Music People are involved in mediating the negotiations between Tanner and Scott Friedman, the representative from Encor. Negotiations have improved gradually, according to AMP Director, Jennifer Houlihan.
“We are still working with the Hole in the Wall and I spoke with the owner Will Tanner yesterday. The lines of communication are open. He is cautiously optimistic that they can come to an agreement and Hole in the Wall can stay where they are for a little bit longer,” said Houlihan.
UT Professor, Wanda Cash, complicated negotiations by starting a well-intentioned petition to designate the Hole as an historic venue. However, because the building was not 50 years old, this only complicated negotiations with the owner.
“We knew that wasn’t going to fly…not because it didn’t deserve it, we just know how that commission works and what Will was saying was that it was causing him difficulties when negotiating with the landlord, because it was putting the landlord into a corner,” said Houlihan.
Although the petition closed, it shows just how much the Hole in the Wall means to the community. Because of its proximity to UT, It has become a popular drinking spot for grad students and professors. Cash, who has been going to the Hole since she was a grad student in the late 70’s, is concerned that the drag is losing its character.
“My concern was that one day we’re going to walk on Guadalupe Street and it’s going to be a chain store – and the identity of the Drag won’t be there anyway and you might as well be anywhere in the United States,” said Cash.
Connection to the Journalism School
Wanda Cash, Associate Director
Tom Johnson, Professor
Rusty Todd, Professor
Hope is not lost for the Hole in the Wall. Houlihan believes that an agreement can be reached.
“The agreement would probably include some sort of investment from the club owners in the physical space; keeping it up, maybe repainting the bathroom…to keep the property value up. So when they do finish their lease it’s in good condition,” said Houlihan.
Tom Johnson, a Professor in the School of Journalism, has tried to reestablish the Hole as the journalism bar by inviting colleagues and students to go.
“It just feels to me like an Austin bar. It connects me to when Austin was starting to develop the idea of “being weird.” It still has that hippie vibe – that old Austin vibe. It’s important to keep those places alive because we’ve lost so many others, like the Armadillo …that are really music icons that just shut down,” said Johnson.
Successful artists like Townes Van Zandt, Spoon, Shakey Graves, and Bob Schneider have all jump-started their careers performing at the Hole. Austin Attorney and UT alum, James Forrest, remembers one of their very first live performances.
“Townes Van Zandt…was an Austin music legend. He was bringing his child to this bar and would sing. People would take care of him. Just being part of something original and something authentic that is Austin…. it is probably what’s most precious to me,” said Forrest.
Forrest has been going to the Hole in the Wall for over 20 years and even displays his own artwork next to the music wall of fame.
“For what Austin is, it is one of the last remaining places where original Austin art are welcomed and celebrated. Come by, have a beer, have a dance, have some memories – keep the tradition going,” said Forrest.
Increased rent on Guadalupe, and other Austin music venues, has put pressure on the local music scene as a whole, but Houlihan still believes that we can find a balance between landlords and local music businesses.
“There’s a sweet spot that I think we can find, where we are keeping Austin’s creative spirit, we’re keeping Austin weird, we’re keeping our city affordable enough for our creatives to stay here, but we’re also leaving room for that prosperity for everyone, and I think it’s absolutely possible,” said Houlihan.