Since 1981, the sleepy town of Riefnitz has hosted the Wörthersee Treffen (Treffen meaning meeting in German) and that’s the best way to describe it. It’s not a rally or a car show but an annual meeting of car enthusiasts that draws well over 160,000 people to the tiny town over the four days of Germany and Austria’s long weekend holiday.
So when Annie and I decided to attend what’s been labelled the biggest modified car meet in Europe, nothing could prepare us for the constant visual battering of a culture we’ve never seen before in our lives. From Munich, it’s about a four-hour drive straight to Wörthersee, but as we force our rental car’s navigation to let us take winding back roads through the mountains to the tiny village of Kals am Grossglockner, we finally got to revel in the madness of Reifnitz.
The first thing you notice as you approach Wörthersee is the gradual influx of modified cars. And as you got closer, you see more and more of them. They’re lined up for kilometres, all heading into town at a crawl while onlookers sit on camping chairs from dawn to dusk. At 10 am, super-polished cars line up along the roads, and as the festival continued, thousands more will parade in a loop through the town and on the hillside roads around the lake for the next four days. And that’s just spill over from the main event! Everything from the bangs of anti-lag systems to the familiar pop of dual-clutch upshifts, nothing seems out of place.
Despite all the cars, nobody is nudging the car ahead to hurry up. Nobody is honking at pedestrians in the way. Except for a bit of applause in the exhibition area where GTis do burnouts, nobody is cheering, screaming or yelling. Mostly, people are chilled, enthusiastically appreciating all of the amazing wheels, exquisite paint tones and detailed themes before their very eyes. The bulk are classics though – some carefully restored, some still needing work. But many are kitted properly with Europe’s best tuning brands. Wheels bearing the logos of RADI8, BBS, OZ Racing and 3SDM reveal themselves around every corner and interestingly enough, replica wheels seem to be a no-no. In Wörthersee, things are done properly!
“36 years ago, a handful of GTi owners brought along their cars and met at Lake Wörthersee, and every year it just kept growing.” explains Sandra Steimann, our go-to PR and media lady. Officially it’s a celebration not just of the VW marque, and it’s fair to say that some wild creations turn up, demonstrating yet again the massive creativity (if not always the taste) of true enthusiasts. In the early days, Wörthersee was wholly non-corporate, but the growth of the event has made it a must-support event for the factory. Nowadays the VW Group is playing a more active role in shaping what goes on at the event.
As Annie lays down her charm at the Sourkraut clothing stand, I notice the bulk of the licence plates are from Austria and Germany, but I spot plates from Italy, Poland, Hungary, Latvia, Slovenia, the Czech Republic and England. “We left Coventry yesterday, and arrived this morning.” explains Achu who attended the event with a bagged BMW F10 M.
The loop through the village is maybe 600 metres. The cars – mostly Golfs, Polos, Sciroccos and then Audis and others drive it for hours at a near standstill while onlookers walk on the street around them or simply sit on camping chairs, beers in hand, snapping smartphone pictures of the cars idling past. Cars that aren’t driving just sit on the grass – often with their owners nowhere in sight – while the Polizei stand huddled in groups knowing all too well that this yearly pilgrimage is monumental for the town’s business boom.
There’s lots to explain as to how good Wörthersee can be for you. Besides the annoying abundance of bottled sparkling water, there’s no doubt that this is one of the greatest automotive events on earth. Regardless of your preferences, I guarantee you would find something at Wörthersee that will you will fall head over heels in love with. Essentially, this is the GTI of car happenings. It does everything, and does it so very, very well.