Wörthersee Treffen 2012

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. My friends here and abroad have been giving me grief about going for years now. 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 shows like Waterfest, H2O 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 party. Last year Wörthersee had 150,000 people attend the show. 150,000 people 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 number of people, the incredible number of amazing cars and the crazy level of celebration and partying that occurs.

Volkswagen Group sponsors the show and all four major group brands (Volkswagen, Audi, Seat and Skoda) have large display booths that rival their common auto show booths. Even Dr. Piech and Dr. Winterkorn attend the show, walking through the crowds of masses to visit each of the booths. Few car company executives would be caught dead at an enthusiast gathering like this. Yet, Volkswagen understands that people at a show like this are their most loyal customers and supporting them is critical. Even the product in the booths at the show is tailored to the audience with Audi bringing several of their latest concept cars, their complete S and RS lineups and even a few motorsport items. Likewise Volkswagen brought out their e-bugster, Beetle R Concept (now painted proper R blue), Polo WRC car and much more. Volkswagen also choose Wörthersee to display a new WRC Polo R Street concept that will likely go into production for Europe. Lastly, VW 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.

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, cruise through the town of Reifnitz and 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 cars 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 accepted and the crowds generally handle it like an everyday activity.

The town of 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 partying 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 doing huge burnouts was absent anywhere in the town itself (outside of town, different story). 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 fairly sane environment that was largely about the cars themselves.

After the sun goes down the partying ratchets up another level. Some of you might be familiar with a very well known and hugely popular DJ by the name of Tiesto. 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 their oncoming 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 to do it all over again.

All and all Wörthersee Treffen is a spectacle that any Volkswagen or Audi enthusiast should go see at least once. The area around Lake Wörthersee is beautiful with the alps rising up around it on all sides. The cars themselves are amazing with some beautiful (and not so beautiful) stuff 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.

Our full gallery of photos are below. Also, because of the nature of Worthersee not being a traditional show where everyone arrives and parks their car on display in one location, it is impossible to catch all the amazing vehicles that arrive and depart throughout the week. What is there one day, is gone the next. So take a look in our forums at this discussion topic where there are even more photos from the show itself.