Wurstfest: Hats Off to Tradition & Fun
Oktoberfest time has now passed. The origins of this celebration began near Munich in Europe in 1810. The royal marriage between Ludwig I of Bavaria and Therese of Saxe-Hildburghausen took place. A grand festival was held for all, including the peasants. It was so successful, that it was held yearly until present times. The concept was spread throughout the continent and followed the German immigrants to America. The autumn timing was probably originally calculated to be at the end of harvest season as a relief that the crops were harvested and stored for winter.
In the late 1820s, famed Italian composer Noccolo Paganini, took a simple folk song, Oh Mama, Mama Cara and reworked it into a simple piece of music which allowed for numerous lyrics and instruments in performances. He named it The Carnival of Venice. Over the decades, this simple tune had been performed by numerous instruments from violins to tubas. In the 1950s, the melody became the basis for Patti Page’s How Much Is That Doggie in the Window?
Somewhere along the line, the Carnival of Venice ditty became popular in the Alps regions of Bavaria and Tyrol. Words were improvised to accompany a small, simple, but fun dance step that worked with children and adults so as to enable all folks to join in.
The men of Tyrol wore a simple woolen felt hat for both hunting and other occasions. The top was folded into a three-sided shape and pinched in the front. The brim was oval, turned up in the back and down in the front. The men were very proud of their hats and personalized them with colorful, corded hat bands. On the side a “brush” of varying size was inserted (bristles up), the originals were of the beard of a goat. Feathers began being added to the brushes in some organizations; different lengths represented a level of hierarchy.
The top of the hats soon lent itself to the words to one of the popular songs and this variation became known as Mein Hut, der hat drei Ecken or My Hat, It Has Three Corners. The song is a vehicle for various musicians to showcase their instruments and serves as an excellent folk dance exhibition. The song has developed into a favorite that is generally performed and danced by youngsters, however it is occasionally performed by German folk dance troupes. Around Texas, the Dujka Brothers and others occasionally perform it as a crowd warm-up.
The complete lyrics are: My hat, it has three corners, Three corners has my hat, And had it not three corners, It would not be my hat
OPA HATS & PINS
The sharp looking usually green Tyrolian hat has become synonymous with Oktoberfests. At Wurstfest (New Braunfels, only one “s”) it is part of the uniform worn by the Opas. An Opa (grandfather) is a member of the Wurstfest Association.
The Wurstfest Association is a non-profit service organization operated strictly by volunteers and focused on sausage and fun. They spend thousands of hours preparing for the hundreds of thousands of attendees in the 10-day span of Wurstfest, held since 1961. Profits are given back to the community and many of the booths are operated by local non-profit entities, such as the Sophienburg Museum, which is the local history museum.
There are two main levels of Opadom - the Kleine Opas wear green vests and the Opas wear red vests.
There are only 50 Kleine Opas and 100 Opas at a time. Responsibilities are spread throughout the organization. Food and beverage management, entertainment, civic liaison, planning, legal issues, and many more items are handled by the Opas to see that the event runs smoothly.
Most of the more experienced Opas have their vests and hats festooned with pins. These are chosen by personal choice and generally reflect different events or service organizations that they encounter as an Opa. In 1967, it was decided to designate a Grosse Opa to serve as the Spass Meister or Fun Master who would work the crowd ensuring that everyone is having a good time.
This year’s Grosse Opa was Dan Krueger who could be seen throughout the crowd with his 18-inch feather anchored in his hat. The Grosse Opa has his own personal pins which he hands out to those who ask. There are some Wurstfest devotees who yearly seek out the Grosse Opa to collect a pin. Over the years, the hats and/or vests become covered with pins and are officially retired when no longer feasible to wear. The owner starts anew with a new hat and yet keeps the vest (which belongs to the association) and begins gathering these badges of service.
For Wurstfest visitors, the green hats can be purchased at various booths as well as a plethora of pins to start their own collection.
Accordioning to a brief online survey What does the New Braunfels’ Wurstfest have that others Oktoberfests do not? The amusing, funny, and flamboyant head coverings, defining them as hats is stretching it, that are available for sale from non-profits on the grounds. They run the gamut from felt beer steins to pink flamingos to Viking helmets to this writers’ favorite: a pink pig with gossamer wings and long strings attached to the wings that run to the wearer’s waist so when they walk, the piggy flies.
Both styles from the classy Tyrolean (gleaming with pins) to the hot-dog (with mustard) headgear kick up the fun level a notch at Wurstfest. It’s true! The first pin this writer received was a fun meter which increased as each hat was encountered.