Given the mummy’s curse totality of 2020, one could be considered trivial for being despondent, inconsolable, bereft over losing a single cultural event. We have lost nearly all of them. They were all canceled in Pandemic Times. There is no shortage of disappointment; in mass-cancellation gulf’s deep, deep waters, we swim every day.
So in a year when, as an individual, I have lost South by Southwest, multiple outdoor races, Halloween, a Fourth of July barbecue, countless birthdays, paid-for concerts, and more, am I sad that Wurstfest is not happening right now? The famed 10-day salute to sausage (because nine days would not be nearly enough) was supposed to start Thursday but instead was cancelled about 100 days ago, right when it looked like the COVID-19 pandemic might wane, and then suddenly it did not wane at all.
Some of it is provincial. I have lived in New Braunfels since 2004, and since then, Wurstfest has become an increasingly important family ritual. We go the first weekend. We go again the second weekend. Sometimes we go three or four times during that 10-day marathon. We eat so many sausages and potato patties and wurst-on-a-stick and fried Oreos (not strictly Wurstfest food, but on brand, for sure), and pork chops-on-a-stick, and sauerkraut-stuffed sausage rolls, and roasted corn and, oh the beer, so much beer to be had, both German and domestic. The music, that incessant oompah, plays from three separate stages, so it is always the nearby soundtrack to our massive consumption of nitrates, protein, and wheaty hops.
If Wurstfest were only about eating a bunch of food you will regret at 3 a.m., perhaps it wouldn’t sting so much. But, over the years, the event has grown into a gigantic festival on the Comal River complete with carnival rides, a comedic stage show, dancing, German Halloween cosplay (bring your own lederhosen), and about 150,000 people. It’s a joy, a wonne in German.
Wurstfest has been my thing, the thing I blab about to everyone for weeks leading up to the event in an effort to get far-flung friends to visit the town I call home at its most excessively celebratory time of the year. For the first time in 60 years, it won’t happen.
Dan Tharp, Wurstfest spokesman and member of its volunteer organization Opa, feels my pain. “We’re disappointed. If you’d asked us at the beginning of the year what’s going to keep us from having a festival, we never would have guessed it would be a pandemic,” he says.
Wurstfest had already suffered a rückshlag (the German word for “setback”): After last year’s event, a fire destroyed much of the Marktplaz food vendor area and the organization had been in the process of rebuilding all year.
“It’s a second hit when you don’t have a festival for the year because you don’t have any income for that year,” Tharp says. “People were so ready for a sense of normalcy and coming together as a community.”
The disappointment and ennui (for which there are lots of German words, like kummerspeck, literally “grief bacon”) are tempered by Tharp’s assurances. He says that the downtime for Wurstfest will actually allow for some longer-term improvements to the area and efforts like a brick fundraiser for some of the new construction. Details about it will be posted soon, he says. But as they make their improvements with the additional time they have, the new buildings continue to go unused.
At least different vendors and organizations in New Braunfels are putting together an alternate Fall Festival of Foods for those (like me) who can’t go another year without their schnitzel and apple strudel fix. Most of those events are happening the first week of November at various individual locations. It’s not an official Wurstfest event, but it gives locals something to do in lieu of Wurstfest.
The New Braunfels Jaycees will still sell a 2020 collectible pin to attach onto green felt hats. There are high hopes that by November 2021, Wurstfest will be back, vaccinated and better than ever. Until then, it’s OK to cry a little for all the German sausages uneaten, to mourn Chicken Dances never danced, to pour out a little beer for all the beers never poured.
There is no Wurstfest, but it’s not the wurst thing to happen in 2020.