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Wurstfest’s vast bottle collection

By Myra Lee Adams Goff

In the area of the Wursthalle called the Spass Haus, is a collection of 3,000 beer bottles adorning the walls. These bottles are only 20% of the collection and  Wurstfest visitors can see the modified collection during the two weekends of the celebration.

The collection belonged to Jerome Nowotny and was acquired by the Wurst Association in 1982. Unfortunately Nowotny did not get to see the display at the Spass Haus, as he died in 1992. Executive Director Suzanne Herbelin said it took quite a while for the Association to assemble the collection. If you notice that the bottles are dusty or you see a spider or two, that’s because Nowotny gave written instructions that “spiders and their webs be encouraged to control silverfish and roaches that could eat the labels from the bottles”.

Nowotny was born in New Braunfels in 1914. As a 14 year old, he bought a car and traveled around the country in the summers. After graduating from NBHS he went to New York to pursue a career in theatre. Newspaper accounts say that Nowotny claims that he bought his first legal bottle of beer in New York – a Trammers which is on display in the Spass Haus, along with the bottle purchased while on his first date with his future wife. This bottle is titled “Old Union Lager Beer”. Nowotny estimated that about 9,000 of the bottles were obsolete brands and irreplaceable. The oldest bottle in the collection is English ale from about 1720.

The acting career didn’t work out so Nowotny hitchhiked around the country, paying his way by carving peach seeds into monkeys. All this time he was collecting beer bottles.
The house in which Nowotny was born was a home bought by his father, Albert Nowotny. (Albert Nowotny was the owner of The House That Jack Built restaurant). Jerome eventually purchased the family home from his father and later opened a restaurant called the Bavarian Village. He displayed his beer bottle collection in a long building surrounding the outdoor biergarten in the back yard. Nowotny also had a business in which he painted wooden coats of arms bearing family logos. Lining the Wursthalle walls now are large coats of arms of  Wurstfest members. Although painted by Clinton Brandt, many of the patterns were created by Nowotny.

Director of Wurst Relations Herb Skoog recalls a trip to Germany in which Nowotny collected so many beer bottles that he had to buy extra suitcases. When he found out how much it would cost to ship, he meticulously took off the labels, brought them home and re-affixed them to bottles at home.

Jerome Nowotny in front of his beer bottle collection.

Jerome Nowotney in front of his beer bottle collection.

The Bavarian Village was sold to Roy and Theresa Haag in 1985, who continued the restaurant, biergarten, and dance hall. The most recent owner is Schlitterbahn, housing their Christmas Shop. They have done a beautiful job of restoration…

Let’s go back to the beginning of this house. Located on Austin St. in Comaltown, it was built by Johann Georg Moeller (my g-g- grandfather). Moeller was born in Michaelsrombach in the Germanic state of Hesse in 1818. As a 25 year old single man, he emigrated to Texas on the ship Weser. After arriving on the Texas coast in July of 1844, his whereabouts are unknown until he made his first land purchase in Comaltown in 1847.

Family records show that Moeller began construction of the house in 1859 and moved into the two-story house three weeks before he died in 1867.

Working alone, Moeller hand-cut the limestone blocks probably hauled from a quarry close to Rock St. The home has 18 ft. cedar beans and rafters plus cypress floor boards of random sizes.

Spass (fun), Bier (beer), and throw in a little Wurst (sausage), and you have the essence of Wurstfest. Come on out Oct. 31-Nov.9 and “Roll out the Barrel.”