A Volkswagen heaven
CATHOLICS have the Vatican, Muslims have Mecca and Jews the Wailing Wall.
For Volkswagen devotees, there's Woerthersee.
This picture-postcard lake pooled at the feet of Austria's alpine hills is an unlikely setting for the German automotive giant's equivalent of Summernats.
But every June, in this ordinarily tranquil area dubbed the Austrian Riviera, the silence is broken by the sound of revving engines and turbocharged throngs as 140,000-odd European car enthusiasts flock to its shimmering shores.
And some of them are very odd indeed.
Hundreds of the faithful simply set up camp at the side of the road that borders the lake - lining the route along which owners proudly parade their mostly modified VW cars, including those from Audi, Seat and Skoda that shelter under the group's broad umbrella.
Only a few do the equivalent of turning up to a fancy-dress party in T-shirt and jeans - posturing in an off-the-shelf vehicle unchanged from showroom spec.
Some also overdo it - notably four German girls who turned up in a pink Golf. That wouldn't have been so abnormal were it not for the fact the colour referred to the car's fur rather than its paint.
There are even the occasional gatecrashers, which this year - the 30th annual running of the event - included a couple of last-generation BMW M3s and even a Jaguar XJ limo.
Don't, however, turn up in a car wearing the badge of General Motors' German brand, Opel.
In Reifnitz, the town central to the lakeside festivities that for four days is transformed into a cross between a motor show and the Big Day Out, roadside stalls sell T-shirts variously printed with the Opel badge on a graveyard stone or in a stick hangman noose.
''Yes, we don't like Opel, we hate Opel,'' says 23-year-old Bianca Gut, who's attending Woerthersee for the fifth consecutive year and is helping out on a side stand for a small German car-modifying company called Street Diamond. ''I don't have a favourite VW brand, though; I like all the VW brands, including Audi, Seat.''
Her friend, 28-year-old Nina Kriechbaum, says there is some leeway for Opels that have been modified in some way.
''If it's in the category of [car] tuning, it doesn't matter what model people drive,'' she says. ''You appreciate the work of the owner of the car.''
As a seemingly infinite number of modified Vee-Dubs, Audis, Seats and Skodas crawl through the crowds of Reifnitz, nose-to-tail like an automotive conga, one vehicle has a clear Australian influence.
Henri Vos, a 29-year-old Dutchman, has driven 1000 kilometres from Holland to show off his take on a Holden Sandman. Vos spent three years and €20,000 converting a 1990s VW Caddy into a beach-style panel van, complete with roof-mounted surfboard and cargo-area-turned-cocktail-bar.
''I want to do more [modifications] but there are only small things to do now,'' he says. ''Now it is ready [to display] so this is my first time to Woerthersee.''
Vos, as with all the owners, gets the opportunity to parade his car past the Volkswagen stand on his way out of the festival grounds.
VW, as it does every year, has its own special cars to display as its way of thanking the enthusiasts for their loyalty.
Four years ago, the company famously unveiled a Golf GTI concept with rear-wheel-drive and a 12-cylinder engine producing more power than most supercars (478kW).
This year, however, the company took a relatively sensible approach, with cars people will actually be able to buy.
Two new cars wore the GTI badge that is the most hallowed among VW's followers. The sportier treatment that accompanies those three letters was applied to the new Golf Cabriolet (there was also an R version with fewer letters but more kilowatts), while an Edition35 version of the Golf GTI celebrated the hot-hatch's 35th birthday with more power and more goodies.
Audi and Skoda also kept the fans happy. VW's luxury brand unveiled an A1 Clubsport concept that points to a future S1 performance hatch, while its more affordable Czech brand caught plenty of eyes with a funky roadster concept based on its vRS2000 rally car.
Thirty years on, there's no sign of waning interest in the Woerthersee event from either the car makers or their disciples. It continues to be worth a look.