At Wurstfest, Texans celebrate German culture

NEW BRAUNFELS – Amber Limerick danced to Bavarian music with her son, Ezra, 3, on her shoulders as she strolled Sunday afternoon along a wide pedestrian promenade between the Wursthalle and Das Grosse Zelt – the Big Tent .

It might as well have been a sunny fall day in Landstuhl rather than New Braunfels, a half-hour north of San Antonio, with a cool breeze picking up and thousands of people reveling in the spirit of traditional Germany. And the most traditional gave pride of place to men in lederhosen, suspenders and alpine hats and to women in dirndls.

It was the third day of Wurstfest, the community celebration of sausage and heritage.

“We are absolutely enjoying this cultural experience here in New Braunfels and it’s a beautiful day with happy people and amazing food, music and people,” said Limerick, 45, of Austin. “Why not be festive?”

There was merriment here, gushing to plenty of Bavarian music and 13 brands of beer from 120 taps in a newly refurbished Wunderbar by the Comal River on the edge of Landa Park. Sixty stalls sold everything from sausage – on a stick or by the Wurstplate – to traditional Bavarian clothing, with proceeds going to the civic groups and nonprofits that run them, with a modest percentage going to the Wurstfest Association.

Now in its 59th year, the Wurstfest aims to promote tourism, the local economy and the community’s heritage, said Dan Tharp, a member of the association’s board of directors. The event began in 1961 when Ed Grist, the city’s meat inspector, established a “Sausage Festival” that year, which became “Wurst Week” in 1963.

It quickly became Wurstfest and became a monster. Crowds grew from 30,000 in 1964 to 75,000 in 1969. Attendance at the 10-day explosion rose to 150,000 in 1974 after exposure on national television and reached 175,000, Tharp said. The total for this year will not be released until the end of the festival this Sunday.

Dan Krueger, past president of the association, said the event was well known even outside the United States.

“We spoke to a couple from the Netherlands last night. Would you believe it? he said. “Wurstfest has become – we often joke that it’s become a local level, maybe a state – but now it’s really become an international event.”

The idea behind Wurstfest is to have fun, said Krueger, whose job it is to serve as “funmeister”.

Lots of people come ready for a good time. Master yodeler Kerry Christensen, who wowed a crowd that converged on the Kleine Zelt – the smallest tent – ​​said people from all over the country come to New Braunfels for Wurstfest because it’s the last big event of the kind on the calendar. Groups, he added, often also have followers.

While performing, Christensen, 65, who lives not far from Provo, Utah, sometimes let out long, unpronounceable yodels as the audience stamped their feet, tapped their legs and clapped to the beat. It mixed humor with old standards and had a few songs you might not associate with yodeling or Bavarian music, including a version of “The William Tell Overture”.

The people around the tent were smiling and laughing.

“It’s a happy medium, happy music,” explained Christensen, whose interest in yodelling dates back to a two-year stay in Austria after graduating from high school. He eventually spent eight years at Disney World in Orlando, Florida, before dropping plans to go to law school. He travels to events across the country and abroad, making yodeling a career.

“I think there are a lot of depressed people in the world and I think people come to festivals like this just to escape their worldly problems, and if I can sing stuff to make them laugh or I do chicken yodels and stuff like that – I didn’t do any of that last time – but if I can do chicken yodels and stuff, it makes people laugh,” he said .

Joey Needham, a Buda software developer, was drinking from a plastic Warsteiner Dunkel pitcher and having a great time.

“I love it here. I wouldn’t be wearing lederhosen if it wasn’t,” said Needham, who was with his sister, Emily Sanders.

Fresh out of finishing sausage on a stick, retired Air Force Master Sgt. Jack Caniglia of San Antonio lit a cigar while his son, Jacob, 24, of San Angelo finished a Reuben sandwich. Both were celebrating a family tradition that began when the elder Caniglia was stationed in the town of Alamo.

It was in 2005.

“We just decided to come here every year,” said Caniglia, 54. “I love the food, the beer, the chance to get away from San Antonio. I love the culture.

San Antonio bartender Jordan Alexander stood outside Das Grosse Zelt listening to Die Bayrischen Hiatamadln, a band from the greater Munich area that includes six women and a male guitarist-vocalist, performed what sounded like a traditional song followed by ” Sweet Caroline” by Neil Diamond. ”

“It just sounds very exciting,” Alexander, 24, said of Wurstfest as he downed an $8 beer. “It gets you moving. It puts you in a good mood. It’s actually my first Wurstfest, so I’m pretty excited.

“Honestly, I didn’t expect it to be so exciting. Everyone is very attached to it, its culture, so it’s pretty cool.

Limerick is an instructional trainer and has participated in Wurstfest five times over the years. When asked why she keeps coming back, she had a simple answer – and one that was rooted in history, architecture and culture.

“Joy,” Limerick said. “These German small towns mark the architecture and cultural centers of a lot of small towns in Texas. It’s pretty much iconic for a lot of small towns in Texas – that kind of German center, if you will – even the way they designed their cities, the German square in the middle.

“I don’t know if it’s considered specifically German, but you have this public square and everything revolves around it. It’s just part of Texas culture, whether you’re Texas or not.

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