For years now I’ve had the Wörthersee Treffen in Reifnitz, Austria on my bucket list of shows I’ve wanted to attend. I’ve seen the photos, watched the videos and heard all the stories. So I finally bit the bullet and headed over to Austria to see what this show was all about.
Now understand, I’ve been attending enthusiast shows like Waterfest, H2Oi and others here in the States for over 10 years now. Waterfest itself draws some 20,000 people each year and is widely considered the biggest show on our shores. Anyone that has attended Waterfest knows just how crazy it gets with that many people in town to show off their car… and also to party. Last year Wörthersee attracted 150,000 people to the show – 150,000 people who drive from all parts of Europe and invade the small mountain town of Reinfitz on Lake Wörthersee. I simply was not prepared for the sheer mass of it all, the incredible number of amazing cars and the intense level of celebration and partying that occurs.
The Volkswagen Group sponsors the show now and all four major group brands (Volkswagen, Audi, Seat and Skoda) boast large display booths that rival their own stands at major industry events like the Geneva Motor Show.Even Rupert Stadler, Dr. Piech and Dr. Winterkorn attend, walking through the crowds of masses to visit each of the brand areas. Few car company executives would be caught dead at an enthusiast gathering like this. Yet, Audi and the Volkswagen Group understand that people at a show like this are their most loyal customers and support for them is critical.
Given the level of importance placed on Wörthersee, even product in the booths at the show is tailored to the audience. Audi brought several of their latest Q3-based concepts, debuted the e-bike concept and showed off their complete S and RS lineups. Audi Sport had a presence with its SP4T class TT RS that runs in the 24 Hours of Nurburgring.
Look deeper in the Audi stand and you can usually find a few more “finds” for those with the eagle eye. Though nowhere in Audi’s greater PR blitz, a less publicized matte black TT RS Light-Showcar from Audi’s StEP program was just as intriguing. So too was the first Sepang Blue-painted new RS 4 Avant to be seen in public and a similarly painted new A3. All of these benefitted from the backdrop of four giant rings on the main stage of the Ingolstadt’s show stand.
Likewise Volkswagen brought out their e-bugster, Beetle R Concept Polo WRC car and much more. Volkswagen also handed out awards to various owners that attended the show, having them drive their cars out on stage to receive awards for the significance of their car. One could get caught up in the corporate stands alone, but then one would miss a city’s worth of enthusiast built cars that will be the cause of many a dropped jaw. Mild to wild, OEplus to rat rod and even a leather skinned first-gen A3. You’ll most literally find it all.
The Wörthersee Treffen itself isn’t the typical “car show” we see here in the U.S. The closest description I can think of is something like Sturgis or Daytona bike week where you see hundreds of motorcycles lined up and down the street. People drive in from points all over Europe and cruise through the town of Reifnitz. If they find an empty parking spot (and I use that term loosely) they park their car on display, pull out a chair, a couple dozen beers and watch the parade of automobiles go by all day and all night. Cars are literally parked anywhere there is enough space – on the grass, on sidewalks, in empty fields – you name it. As you can imagine, trying to just drive through town can take an eternity. Walking through town is almost as difficult, with lines of people often stopping and moving and stopping again just trying to move the equivalent of one city block. This is Europe of course, so public drinking is completely acceptable and crowds generally handle it like an everyday activity.
Reinfitz has been hosting this show for years and is well prepared to handle the event. Private security is present throughout the show areas, but blend in completely and leave most of the revelers alone. The police only show up at night and only at specific areas where they keep a watchful eye on things, but largely leave everyone to have a good time. You’d have to do something pretty moronic to draw their attention and even then they usually just bark at you to knock it off.
Curiously the common U.S. show antics of huge burnouts was absent anywhere in town. Apparently show goers have learned that this isn’t tolerated and when you’ve paid 35 Euros to get your car into town, you don’t want to have your passes revoked (or your license!). So while there may be an occasional chirp of tires or engine revving, it was a completely safe environment that was largely about the cars themselves.
After the sun goes down the partying ratchets up a level or two. Skoda put on a free concert where Tiesto mixed his two hour set from a custom made Citigo (Skoda’s version of the Volkswagen Up!) that expanded and morphed into a mobile DJ stand. Elsewhere in town the bars, beer gardens and party tents are in full swing with their own dance parties, drinking games and general craziness.
By midnight the people that have been drinking all day are starting to finally reach their limits. The streets are littered with garbage and people are stumbling around looking for anywhere to crash and nurse the imminent hangover. The town looked like a small riot had taken place, but the police and security were calm and friendly. Cleanup crews were starting to come in to reset the stage for the next day so that everyone could do it all over again.
All and all the Wörthersee Treffen is a spectacle that any Audi or Volkswagen enthusiast should go see at least once. The area around Lake Wörthersee is beautiful with the Alps surrounding it on all sides. The cars themselves are amazing with some beautiful (and some not so beautiful) that you just won’t see anywhere else. The atmosphere is great, laid back and fun. You couldn’t ask for much more out of a gathering of enthusiasts… large or small.