World’s biggest GTI festival is saved

by Antony Ingram
2 March 2023 3 min read
World’s biggest GTI festival is saved
Photos: Volkswagen

The world’s biggest festival for hot hatch fans has been saved from closure. GTI Treffen – GTI Festival – has been held on the shores of Lake Wörthersee, in Austria, since 1982, but the 2023 event faced closure after the local authority of Maria Wörth told organisers that the show, which has attracted up to 200,000 visitors over a period of several weeks, is no longer considered environmentally acceptable and wouldn’t be welcome.

From 2024, the GTI Festival will be moving closer to home, as Volkswagen will host the event in Wolfsburg.

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The Festival, often known in the community simply as “Wörthersee”, attracts tens of thousands of visitors from all over Europe every year, many turning up in wildly modified Volkswagens, Audis, and other VW Group products. Volkswagen has officially sponsored the event since 2006, using it to showcase new models and concepts, with previous highlights including the Up GTI hot hatch, and the ID R prototype.

The event has not been held since 2020 however due to the pandemic, and while it brings economic benefits to the area of Maria Wörth, the local authority has decided that its impact on local residents is not longer acceptable and its perceived image is out of touch with the region’s sustainability goals.

A statement on the Worthersee Treffen website reads “The municipality of Maria Wörth was the venue of the GTI meeting for many years. The history of this major event is inextricably linked to the district of Reifnitz and has brought many encounters, great fame and, last but not least, economic impulses to our community.

“At the same time, the enormous increase in participants over the years has shown the limits of possible growth and resilience of our community and the entire Wörthersee region. Numerous side effects of the automobile event have led to increasing criticism and decreasing acceptance of the annual meeting.

“The restrictions in the pandemic years have now canceled the GTI meeting three times. The effects of climate change, the responsibility of political decision-makers for the preservation of ecosystems and the need to align actions at all levels according to the principles of sustainability make it necessary to place the future design under new premises.”

While it’s tempting to dismiss the area’s concerns, anyone who has visited a big automotive gathering will be all too familiar with their downsides, from the traffic they cause, to the unfortunate actions of a minority who can’t behave themselves. Reading between the lines, it appears Maria Wörth has quite enjoyed a few years of relative silence, and is taking the opportunity to make a clean break.

No such troubles in Wolfsburg though, which sprung up around Volkswagen’s factory in 1938 and still primarily serves the enormous automotive plant.

While not quite as scenic as a beautiful blue lake in Austria, it should be more than up to catering for visitors, and is already home to Autostadt, a collection of museums celebrating the various VW Group marques, each of which features striking architecture, and sits in the shadow of the two AutoTürme venues – large glass silos housing hundreds of brand new VWs, where buyers can collect their cars direct from the factory.

Volkswagen is calling upon fans of the marque for ideas, before it hosts the next GTI Treffen in 2024, dubbed the “GTI Coming Home” event. Whatever they come up with, it’s sure to prove popular.

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