Wurstfest is the Texas version of Oktoberfest that is held in New Braunfels, Texas each year during the first week of November. Olga, Asya, Irina, and Kate all attended the festival with us. It’s a fun place for an exchange student to absorb a little Texas culture. The two Muslim girls did not attend because 1) we had moved to north Texas, 2) taking a Muslim girl to a festival that features beer would have been rather strange, and 3) all the food is either pork or cooked with pork fat, so it would have been horrible for the girls to starve to death amongst the feast of sausage, pork chops, and ham hocks that can be found in the Marketplatz. The Russians felt at home because of the second most common staple is potatoes in the form of spiral cut fried potatoes, potato cakes, and hot potato soup. Of course, there is plenty of sauerkraut as well.
At the time our Russian and Belorussian daughters were with us, we lived in San Antonio, so Wurstfest was just a twenty minute drive away. Since we have moved to north Texas, we have chosen to stay at the Faust Hotel. It’s a historic hotel with funky little rooms and a great bar on the first floor. Perhaps most important is that it is within walking distance to the festival. Our normal itinerary is to drive down Friday night from Dallas, eat at the Grist Mill in nearby Gruene (pronounced green), sleep late, then find breakfast somewhere in downtown New Braunfels. We walk to Wurstfest for lunch and some early music, then return to the Faust for an afternoon nap before returning for the evening festivities. An added bonus to the Faust is that it is haunted, although we have yet to have an extra visitor in our room.
Wurstfest is located alongside the Comal River, and the Guadalupe River is nearby. All of the girls have gone tubing on one of those two rivers. For those who don’t don’t what tubing is, you ride down the river in a truck innertube, sometimes fast, sometimes slow, but always with a cold beverage in your hand, the type depending on your age. An intense sunburn is also frequently involved.
Most people know about Tex-Mex food, and the relationship between Texas and Mexico is readily apparent to anyone who can read a map. But those outside Texas may be surprised at what a large influence German culture has on the state. A large immigration of Germans to Texas began in the 1840’s and it was the Germans who settled much of central Texas. To this day, there are towns in Texas where you may hear German being spoken, although the Texas German will sound strange to visitors from modern Germany.
Kate argues that Wurstfest is not a sausage festival but a beer festival, and she probably is correct. Nevertheless, in German culture it is still a family affair. There are plenty of rides and games for the little kids. Terri still talks about the time when Olga tried to “kill” her on one of the spinning rides.
The main dance hall is mostly empty at noon, but it heats up with polka dancers in the evening. A cross-cultural phenomenon…everyone from every country seems to know how to do the chicken dance.
Besides the dance hall, entertainment is found in the Little Tent and the Big Tent. It is best to find your seats early in the evening if you want to enjoy the shows in the Big Tent. Every year Wurstfest brings in a band from Europe and in 2008 it was Höhberg-Buam from Austria. In the Big Tent, whoever happens to be sitting across the table from you becomes your best friend for the evening. When Olga attended, we sat across from a man who actually knew where Olga’s home city of Saratov was located, which was pretty amazing since this was not long after the fall of the Soviet Union and Saratov had been a closed city due to the armaments produced there. As it turned out, the man was retired from military intelligence.
Everyone is happy at Wurstfest. Everyone knows the songs and sings along with the bands. Everyone gets on their feet and dances. Every now and then a grand parade makes it through the crowd; In this picture the parade is being led by the tuba player from Höhberg-Buam. In the background of the photograph you can also see a small taste of our great Texas evening skies.
Wearing crazy hats is part of the fun. I wonder if Irina still has her chicken hat. I’ll have to ask next time I see her.