Since 1982, Volkswagen enthusiasts have gathered at the picturesque Lake Wörthersee in Austria, for the annual GTI-Treffen (GTI meeting). Back when it originally started, there were fewer than 100 people attending, which made it a quiet event for appreciating cool Volkswagens. However, according to CarBuzz, the event crowds have grown to over 100,000 people in recent years, which has caused town of Maria Wörth to shut it down after 40 years, mostly due to its environmental impact.
According to Auto Motor und Sport, the Wörthersee event simply began attracting too many people for the small, otherwise sleepy lakeside towns to handle. While local businesses surely appreciated the yearly tourism boom, it recently got out of hand. Many of the attendees would respectfully show up to appreciate cars but too many burnouts, street races, and parties were starting to overwhelm local police. However, more than that, the locals became more and more concerned with the climate impact on local ecosystems. So the mayor of Maria Wörth, Markus Perdacher, decided to shut it down for 2023 but not without leaving the door open for some sort of smaller event in the future.
"We are happy to continue to examine proposals and ideas for events in our community in the future, but will weigh up to what extent they comply with our ideas of social and ecological compatibility and meet high sustainability standards." said Perdacher.
The Wörthersee event began after the CEO of VW in 1982 gifted the town of Reifnitz a granite MkII Golf GTI. The granite GTI became a tourist attraction, where likeminded VW owners would gather. It eventually became so popular that in 2006 Volkswagen began officially sponsoring the event and would even choose students to build factory-backed cars to be shown at Lake Wörthersee each year. The most famous of such builds was a Mk6 GTI with a rear-mounted Bentley W12 that was driven by Jeremy Clarkson in an old Top Gear episode.
Volkswagen released a statement about the event ending. "We regret that the legendary GTI meeting on Lake Wörthersee will no longer take place in this form. The loyal GTI fans have been an integral part of our brand identity for decades and make VW a real love brand. We are currently investigating how we can support the GTI fan community in the future. Community care is very important to us, because we come into direct exchange with our most loyal customers."
The organizers of the Wörthersee event will be holding a new VW meet in the nearby town of Klagenfurt on May 20, 2023. However, it will be interesting to see how many people show up and if enthusiasts still unofficially gather by Lake Wörthersee.
There was a similarly large VW event held in the U.S. in Ocean City, Maryland, called H2Oi. After years of growing crowds and increasingly rowdy parties, the police and locals also became overwhelmed and decided to shut it down. The event then moved to Wildwood, New Jersey in 2022 but much of H2Oi crowd never fully migrated over. Instead, many of the diehard H2Oi loyalists would still go to Ocean City. It's possible something similar happens to the GTI-Treffen at Lake Wörthersee.
It's understandable that the small towns near Lake Wörthersee would want the massive event to end, or at least reduce in size, but it's still a sad moment for so many VW enthusiasts, for whom the GTI-Treffen was so important.
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