It started with a young New Braunfels man serving his country. Young John Grist was stationed in the Army in Germany in the fall of 1959. Upon returning home to New Braunfels, he told his parents, Ed and Betty Grist, about the beer, food and music at Oktoberfest in Germany. Dr. Ed Grist, the local New Braunfels veterinarian and city meat inspector, of course, new all of the sausage makers in town and was hit with the idea to have a similar party in New Brauntels. And that was just his idea; a party. As he also knew the beer distributers, he knew, that just like making sausage, the right ingredients were in place. He mixed in music and in 1961, the first "Sausage Festival" was held in New Braunfels.
All Ed and Betty, both avid dancers, ever expected was that they would have a party to showcase the sausage-making heritage brought from Germany 116 years earlier. 2, 000 people showed up for this "party" that the Grists had put together, which featured music by the local New Braunfels singing clubs and Amtliche Stadt Wurst Kapelle (the Official City Sausage Band). This Saturday event was preceded by a week of local acitivities that included sausage dishes on menus of local cafes and specials on sausage products in local New Braunfels meat markets and grocery stores. Visitors had been attracted by literally world-wide publicity … there were feature stories on this unique celebration in newspapers in Canada and Germany, as well as most major cities in the United States.Sausage Festival visitors watched ladies of the Grange demonstrate sausage-making practiced by their forebears who brought their recipes to the Texas wilderness which later became New Braunfels. They saw modern methods used today, which have left unchanged the mouth-watering flavors of original recipes. They also saw an impressive display of antique meat grinders and sausage stuffing machines gathered from attics and basements of the community of New Braunfels.
The first year it was “Sausage Festival” … later “Wurst Week” … and finally “WURSTFEST”. At the time, no one in New Braunfels anticipated the phenomenal success this festival would achieve. The first festival was scheduled for Landa Park, but because of threatening weather it was moved to the New Braunfels National Guard Armory. The second year was a two-day affair and survived the worst storm of the year, a hail and windstorm that blasted New Braunfels and all of Comal County. Held in Landa Park, its visitors and exhibitors rode out the storm while consuming 1, 500 sausage plates.
The festival went “bigtime” in ’63, moving downtown to the Rathskeller (a burned-out Eiben & Fisher Department Store basement, now the New Braunfels Utilities parking lot) with an event scheduled every night of Wurst Week. Tents were erected in the basement and partygoers had to walk down steps to get to the festival. As rains came during the week, pumps were brought in to keep the basement dry. As visitors to New Braunfels came downtown, they found the entire square packed with people coming and going to the event.
Somewhere around this time, in the early years of Wurstfest, some enterprising New Braunfels meat market came up with the idea of the "pigwich", a sausage sandwich or a pig in a blanket which could be held in one hand while a beer was held in another. Soon thereafter, someone came up with the idea of putting the sausage on a stick, thus making it even easier to eat and drink without the need for a table or utensils. A popular rumor has it that the first sausage-on-a-stick vendor scoured the grounds nightly for leftover sticks to boil and re-use the following night. Dr. Grist, still the working for the city, put a quick stop to that practice!