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Music tradition strong at Wurstfest

By Myra Lee Adams Goff

When the Gemischter Chor Harmonie (Sängerbund) sings on the last Sunday of Wurstfest, they will be upholding a long-standing tradition of celebrating with music.

For the past 50 years bands,singers, polka dancers, waltzers, chicken dancers, and some very sophisticated instrumentalists have danced hand and hand through the Wursthalle.

The very first Wurstfest, loosely called Sausage Week in 1961, was opened with another Sängerbund group, the Clear Springs Frohsinn with Otto Seidel as director. Raymond Salge remembers practicing the solo part of “God Bless America” at the fenced dance slab at Landa Park.

The sausage week was to end there with entertainment and a sausage dinner. Rain had been threatening for several days and then at the last minute, the sausage festival group moved the whole celebration to the National Guard Armory.

The next year, the festival moved back to Landa Park where it stayed for two more years, followed by four years in the “hole on the Plaza” (remnants of the Eiband and Fischer Building). (See http://sophienburg.com/blog/?p=18 November 2006.)

In 1967, the festival moved to half of the empty cottonseed warehouse in Landa Park. Soon the Wurstfest took over the other half of the building which became the present Wursthalle, and after extensive remodeling, expanded its present location.

Raymond Salge, whose father, Bert Salge, was one of the organizers of the Gemischter Chor Harmonie in 1916, remembers singing in the Armory and how difficult it was because of the noise of merrymakers.

The love of music is strong in the German culture. Author Curt Schmidt says, “They sang when they were happy and they sang when they were sad.” (Source: Omas and Opas)

A favorite leisure activity was singing in groups, therefore the formation of the Sängerbund.

Many dance halls in the area (too many to name) were buildings devoted to music and dancing.

The Wurstfest has promoted that tradition in New Braunfels and kept it alive.

The Bavarian type polkas or “Oompah” is believed to have originated in the beer gardens of Europe.

So how appropriate is that for Wurstfest?

You won’t hear many other types of music there.

Opa Tim Salge, one of the vice chairmen in charge of entertainment, says that the Wurstfest strives for a large majority of polka music and a small amount of so called “other.”

Do you think Tejano music sounds like the German polkas? Author Guadalupe San Miguel, Jr. says in his book Tejano Proud about Tejano music, “Música tejana has been based primarily on a polka beat. Polkas are European in nature brought to the Southwest by Germans and other Europeans who settled in Central Texas in the first half of the 19th century.” (That’s us)

An interesting Wurstfest related story is about the well-known singer Flaco Jimenez (Texas Tornado).

Upon hearing a polka band in the Wursthalle, he was invited to join them on the stage and play Tejano polkas with the band for almost an hour.

That headliner band was the 18 Grammy winning polka master, Jimmy Sturr, from the little village of Florida, New York. With Jimenez, Sturr has since then recorded several CDs, a favorite around here being “Hey Baby, Que Paso”.

Sturr returns as a headliner at Wurstfest the second weekend this year.

Being the 50th year of Wurstfest, the organization has asked Opa Alton Rahe to write their history with Opa Darvin Dietert in charge of photographs.

It will be released next year.

No doubt there will be lots about music in that book because both Rahe and Dietert have been involved in Oompah music since they, along with Gordon Zunker, organized “The Hi-Toppers” band while they were still in high school.

This successful band played at Wurstfest for 25 years.

Headliner Myron Floren who died in 2005 will be missed, but I’ll bet when you go to Wurstfest, you’ll hear plenty of that good old Oompahpah Oompahpah Oompah Oompah Oompahpah!

The Hi-Toppers in 1949. From left, Gordon Zunker, Darvin Dietert, Alton Rahe, Allen Moehrig, Kenneth Rheinlander and Melford Haag.

The Hi-Toppers in 1949. From left, Gordon Zunker, Darvin Dietert, Alton Rahe, Allen Moehrig, Kenneth Rheinlander and Melford Haag.