Wurstfest is an annual celebration of food and music, held on the Wurstfest grounds beside Landa Park in New Braunfels. The fest commemorates the German heritage of the city and the surrounding region. German foods and musical traditions have played an important role in the cultural life of New Braunfels since it was founded by Germans in 1845. In 1961 the mayor issued a proclamation setting aside one Saturday in November to celebrate the town's cultural heritage. Held in the National Guard Armory, the inaugural event attracted about 2,000 visitors. This celebration came to be known as Wurstfest and has increased in popularity among both residents and tourists every year since.
In 1963 the festival was held in the Rathskeller or what many locals referred to as “Eiband’s Hole,” the burned-out basement of the old Eiband & Fischer Department Store (currently the site of the New Braunfels Utilities parking lot). Attendance was estimated at 10,000; that number tripled to 30,000 in 1964. The event moved into the Wursthalle in 1967, and in 1968 it was expanded to its current ten-day length. Attendance reached more than 160,000 in 1975. Purchase of the adjacent Dittlinger Feed Mill property and the sub-lease of part of the LCRA property tripled the size of the Wurstfest grounds in 1978. By the late 1970s, with the increasing concern over large and sometimes unruly crowds, organizers enacted a series of strict policies and a grounds admission charge to enhance the festival’s appeal as a family event.
In the early 1990s attendance had leveled off to just over 100,000. In spite of a devastating flood just thirteen days before the festival opening in 1998, Wurstfest Association members and local businesses pitched in to clean the festival grounds, and the event began as scheduled. By the early 2000s the festival had expanded from a single weekend event in the early 1960s to a ten-day extravaganza filled with special events, food, and musical groups. Opening day at Wurstfest was featured in a nationwide live broadcast on ABC’s Good Morning America in 2006.
Wurstfest visitors are treated to a variety of German and German-inspired dishes, including sauerkraut, kartoffel "puffers" (potato pancakes), strudel, bread pudding, funnel cakes, pretzels, and pastries. The ubiquitous sausage, including bratwurst and knackwurst, is perhaps the most popular food item of all. Beer is the drink of choice for many visitors, but nonalcoholic beverages are available. The Wursthalle, the largest of the music venues on the fairgrounds, hosts both traditional and modern bands. German polka music is especially popular, but traditional Mexican-American and country performers also draw large crowds, both in the Wursthalle and in smaller tents throughout the grounds. In 1968 accordionist Myron Floren of the Lawrence Welk Show performed the first of many annual appearances that spanned three decades at Wurstfest. In 1972 the Lawrence Welk Show featured a segment of Floren's performance at the festival.
The Wurstfest also provides area craftsmen and artists an opportunity to sell their wares. The Sophienburg Museum and the Museum of Texas Handmade Furniture host special events during Wurstfest to introduce tourists to German culture, and the tour of Conservation Plaza offers visitors a taste of the old city with its restored buildings. From the 1970s through the 1990s the Heritage Exhibit in the city's civic center presented displays on the history of New Braunfels. In addition, Wurstfest stages dramas produced by the city's Circle Arts Theater, the Tour de Gruene bicycle classic, the Wurstfest Five-Mile Run, the Wurst Motorcycle Run, and the Wurstfest Regatta, featuring more than 200 sailboats on nearby Canyon Lake. In 2001 a new attraction was the Wurstfest Review variety show, staged in the Wursthalle. The festival introduced a special children’s entertainment area known as Kinderhalle in 2007.
Since its inception, Wurstfest has raised millions of dollars for community projects. The celebration is directed by a board of more than 200 "Opas," or honorary "grandfathers." These directors are members of the nonprofit Wurstfest Association, dedicated to promoting local business and tourism and preserving German heritage. New Braunfels held its 50th Celebration of Wurstfest in 2010 and commemorated the history of the festival with a book, Wurstfest, New Braunfels, Texas: The First Fifty Years…Since 1961, prepared by local writer and historian Alton J. Rahe and photo compiler Darvin Dietert—both members of the longtime German dance and polka band the Hi-Toppers, which was a popular headliner at Wurstfest for many years. . In 2014 Wurstfest added craft beer from more than a dozen American craft breweries in addition to the German lagers served. The addition of the Stelzenplatz increased the overall space of the festival location by almost two acres. It included a vendor market, music stage, and craft beer garden. The annual celebration is held in early November, rain or shine.