By Myra Lee Adams Goff
This column is now 16 months old and this story is the “wurst” story ever. For those of you who just got off the boat, “wurst” means sausage and sausage means Wurstfest!
This Friday Wurstfest will begin its 40th year in the giant building called Wursthalle which according to Herb Skoog was possibly the largest poured concrete building in the world at that time (1890s). That building has been the home of Wurstfest since 1967 and it will once again house the ten day celebration.
The first festival in 1961 was conceived by Veterinarian Ed Grist as a celebration of New Braunfels’ German heritage. It was in the National Guard Armory, the next year in Landa Park, and then downtown in a hole created by the burned-out Eiband and Fischer building on Main Plaza. The crowds got so big that they moved to theWursthalle in Landa Park.
According to Executive Director Suzanne Herbelin, only half of the building was used and the other half was a storeroom for Southwestern Bell. It had a dirt floor. And a floor was put in the firstyear. Over the years, the Wursthalle has taken on a decidedly German atmosphere, with its multi-colored lights, and the many coats of arms decorating the walls. All of those (273) Opas with their lederhosen and all of those Omas with their dirndls make you wonder if you really are still in Texas.
Now look at the photo. In the 1890s this was the Landa Cotton Oil Co. owned by Harry Landa until 1926 when the entire Landa Milling Company was sold. The building on the right now houses theWursthalle. You’re looking at a bird’s-eye view of the entrance. From right to left, all four of these buildings were part of the cotton oil production. The cottonseed was brought into the Wursthalle building and went through several processes producing various products made from cottonseed. The remnants were used for cattle feed and stored in the rock building shown on the left (City Maintenance).
Now let’s move to the building directly to the left of theWursthalle. This building now houses Circle Arts Theater, the Wurst office, and Spass Haus containing a collection of 7,000 plus beer bottles from around the world collected by the late Jerome Nowotny.This building has a full basement that in WWII contained a rifle range and also a field hospital. Everything needed to set up a hospital was stored in that basement. The idea was that it could instantly be moved in case of an emergency.
The next building to the left (Landa Recreation) became a thriving business during World War II. Tom and Gyrene Cater began a girl’s dress manufacturing business there (Cater Frock), using only material from the local textile mill. In 1947 Tobe Nathan saw an ad in the Houston paper that this little factory was for sale and he and his daughter Loyce and son-in-law Irwin Boarnet purchased it. They hired three young girls from T.S.C.W. in Denton as designers – Mary Jo Stratton (Zipp), Sarah Jones (Wetz), and June Keith (Voigt). Eventually, all three married NB young men. They also hired Edna Fundis (Bremer) and Laris Priesmeyer.
When the business grew, they moved to the back of the building to the right of the present Recreation Building. The business was eventually sold in 1970.
Loyce Boarnet has done long-standing volunteer work with the Sophienburg, reconstructing damaged material and handwork. She is part of a group of ladies called the Sophie Sewers and they perform an invaluable contribution to our collection.
Wurstfest uses its money for worthy projects in the community. The Sophienburg is one of the recipients of this generosity. Also, this year Sophienburg will hold its primary fund raiser, Weihnachtsmarkt, at the Wursthalle. (Nov. 30, Dec. 1 and 2)
Polka on out to the Wursthalle, y’all!