Get ready to celebrate New Braunfels’ heritage. Long before the Chicken Dance entered the city limits, Wurstfest was held in a hole in the ground next to Main Plaza. Of course, this wasn’t the first location.
The brainchild of veterinarian and city meat inspector Dr. Ed Grist, and organized by Grist, Joe Faust and Tom Purdum, Wurstfest had its beginning in December of 1961. Herb Skoog recalls that the first celebration was going to be in Landa Park, but because of rain it had to be moved to the National Guard Armory.
Two years later in November of 1963, the celebration moved downtown. This is where the “hole in the ground” comes in. It was located where the Utilities parking lot is and here’s the story:
At first a store owned by Gustavus Conrads was located in this spot and in 1864 it was bought by Ernst Sherff. He enlarged the store, even adding a campground out back for those who came to town from the country.
The store was eventually bought by George Knocke and George Eiband and became Knoke and Eiband. In 1907 the store was sold to Ernst Eiband, brother of George, and Emil Fischer. Under their leadership, Eiband and Fischer opened a modern establishment in 1912. Sporting a skylight in the middle of the roof and a grand staircase to the mezzanine, the store held a spectacular opening, even allowing other merchants to display their goods. After a few years this staircase was torn out, the mezzanine closed and the basement was opened up.
Finally the store was incorporated and run by Eiband’s sons, Ernst Jr., James, Anselm, and daughter Mrs. Max Wommack. Also in that management team was Fischer’s son, Carlo. Marijane Fischer Stafford is the daughter of Carlo and has been researching the store history for the last few years.
Up until March 2, 1947, Eiband and Fischer Store was a thriving business. Then came that fateful day of the largest fire downtown since the Seekatz Opera House burned. Beginning in the basement, the fire raged undetected during the night until the early morning hours when a salesman called on Naegelin’s Bakery next door and noticed smoke. By the time the fire department got there, the damage was done to the building, and one fireman, Ernst Alves, was killed. Stafford says that the cause of the fire is still not known but that there was speculation of a defective small motor in the basement.
A small part of the store was left (where the Utilities building is) and the corporation continued business for a few years. The gaping hole on the Plaza sat there for years, ugly and empty, a reminder of that fire.
Now Wurstfest enters the picture 14 years later in 1963. The basement hole was cleared out, colored lights hung in the air and for three years, it was a popular place for that celebration. The old Eiband and Fischer vault left in the hole was an innovative, cool place for food and beer storage.
Certain times and places conjure up pleasant visions, and in my memory bank is Wurstfest in the hole. Resembling a WWII bombed out shelter, it was transformed by the magic of music, lights and celebration. With a little bit of imagination, you could look up and visualize what Eiband and Fischer had been. Wurstfest only stayed in the hole for three years and then moved to Landa’s cottonseed storage building, now known as Wursthalle.
In 1969 the entire Eiband and Fischer property was purchased by local investors and eventually sold to the New Braunfels Utilities.
After you’ve been to Wurstfest, polka on up the hill to the Sophienburg and learn some New Braunfels history. The collection ladies have put together a dandy display of beer steins. They are empty, of course. Some dating back to the late 1800s, they are mostly gifts from Walter Faust, Jr., Emmie Grube, and the Eiband family. Steins often have little tidbits of wisdom on them and I like this one: “Trink was klar, Lieb was rar” or “Drink what is clear, and love what is rare “(exquisite).