Print article by Ryan Madden
Alcohol and good times seem to go together at Wurstfest, a 10-day long German Oktoberfest-style festival held in New Braunfels each year. Massive beer pitchers filled with everything from German craft beers to good old Bud Light, turkey legs as big as your forearm, sausage on a stick that barely fits on said stick, pretzels as big as your head and grown adults strolling around in lederhosen are just a few of the hallmarks of Wurstfest. The distinct smells of succulent grilled meats and spilled alcoholic beverages are present throughout the festival grounds. The soundtrack to the festival is a harmonic combination of traditional German folk music and polka music, both played by authentic German musicians, many of whom make the trip across the pond from Germany just to play at Wurstfest every year. While college students make up a sizeable percentage of attendees, Wurstfest is actually known nationwide as one of the most authentic and rambunctious tributes to Oktoberfest, which means kids, adults and old folks alike all descended on New Braunfels to join in on the festivities from November 3rd through November 12th.
Despite Wurstfest’s current size and reputation, it has surprisingly humble origins. The festival that would become Wurstfest was founded in 1961, when New Braunfels city meat inspector Ed Grist declared a municipal need for a festival to honor sausage. The festival drew nearly 2,000 visitors, which doesn’t seem like much compared to the over 200,000 visitors who attended Wurstfest last year. Nevertheless, the first Wurstfest was a success thanks to literal worldwide publicity in the U.S., Germany and Canada, which paved the way for future incarnations of the event.
By 1968, attendance had grown to nearly 60,000 and the festival was expanded to its current 10-day iteration. What had originally begun as a day to celebrate sausage had quickly turned into nationwide sensation that featured Wurst Tacos, Sauerkraut Pizzas, Corn on the Cob, Shish-ka-bobs and Wurst-ka-bobs as well as the standard sausage. Wurstfest has been enjoying steady growth since the 1980’s, and has been recognized internationally on numerous occasions. Most recently, USA Today ranked Wurstfest as the Number 2 Oktoberfest in the entire country.
“Nothing beats Wurstfest except for Oktoberfest, and nothing beats Oktoberfest so that’s pretty high praise!” said Benny Okruhilk, whose traditional polka band Texas Sound Check (formerly known as The City Polka Boys) has been playing at Wurstfest since 1983, and has even traveled oversees to play at the original Oktoberfest celebrations in Germany. “Doing our thing, our brand of music, you know, we of course go around the country and see all the Oktoberfest’s that get put on, and Wurstfest is just the best. The food and the beer are always the best, and the people are always so great. There’s always something new.”
Even for those who are unfamiliar or uninterested in celebrating a German cultural heritage event, Wurstfest has plenty of attractions and events to ensure a fun experience for all. In recent years the festival has expanded to take up the entirety of its original location at Landa Park in New Braunfels, making room for a majestic Ferris wheel, a German-themed merry go round, an old school German dance hall, and other carnival-style attractions. Furthermore, Wurstfest’s location near the headwaters of the Comal river ensure that the backdrop of the festival is always one of scenic beauty.
“This is the one event per year that we can always count on delivering the hype and then some,” said Chris Castillo, social chair of the Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity at Texas State. “The freshman have never seen anything like it, and the upperclassmen literally look forward to it all year long. Even the alumni always show out the most for Wurstfest, and our best date party year after year is the Wurstfest party bus.”
Wurstfest has certainly come a long way since it began as a literal sausage fest all those years ago, and has become a major pillar of not just the German community in New Braunfels, but of the culture of the entire city as a whole. Wurstfest only lasts ten days every year during the beginning of November, so make sure to get out with some friends or family and enjoy it whenever you can.
Photos by Madison Neidlinger
Audio story by Meradith Garcia