European Ethnology: PAINT ME A FAIRY TALE TOWN (Satis Shroff)
As tradition demands in the Swiss Alps, the cattle were decorated with pine-branches, big bells on their necks, silk roses and, of course, small Swiss flags. After enjoying the freedom of the Alpine meadows in the Flumserbergen, the cows trudged reluctantly again all the way to the Valleys—and eventually the stalls in their cowsheds. What a lovely end to the Alpine summer.
It was also on Saturday that the Swiss Fastnacht’s symbolic character named Brother Fritschi returned to his homeland Lucern after languishing for eight months in the custody of the Basler merry-makers of Fasnet or Fastnachtlern, as we call ‘em here. Some 250 inhabitants of Central Switzerland came to Basle on Saturday to free Fritschi from his imprisonment. It might be mentioned that Fritschi was given a sumptuous meal before he was set free. He was nabbed robbing and the custodians were lenient and he was allowed to watch a soccer match at the local St. Jackob’s Park. When he arrived in Luzern, he was greeted by his spouse and he rejoiced and danced on the Rathausstegbrücke ( a bridge to the town council) with his spouse Fritschene. Prior to that Fritschene had admonished and battered him for his bad ways.
This story of Fritschi’s imprisonment dates back to 500 years and the Basler servants of war (Kriegsknechte) kidnapped Fritschi in those days.
What a coincidence. It’s still September but in Munich the Octoberfest is going on in full swing. It was declared open by the Oberburgermeister Christian Ude, who hammered a peg into a keg of beer and said: “O’zapft is!” which is the Bavarian way of commencing the Octoberfest. On this 175th Octoberfest, the first person to take a swig of beer was the politician Günter Beckstein, who’s a real Bavarian. He was under fire in the German media recently for he’d said: “You can drive a car even if you’ve had two krugs of beer.” No one seemed to be amused. The traditional alpine dirndl-look is very ‘in’ for visitors to the Octoberfest. And you’re allowed to smoke as much as you like in the beer-tents and the meadows. Poor non-smokers and cows.
That was Saturday and I’m on my way to Staufen also known as the Faust-town. As I wait for for the red bus to come in Kappel, a lovely Black Forest area, I talk with a sweet old lady who’s also on her way to the railway-station—the Hauptbahnhof.
“Autumn is with us now, isn’t it?” I ask her.
She replies in the affirmative. The flowers are still in the fields, ready to be plucked, and so is the maize. Nearby, the grass has been cut with the help of a harvester and you see big rolled bundles of prospective hay scattered like in an oil-painting by Vincent van Gogh. Last week the grass was green and now the leaves have taken on different hues:yellow, brown and russet.
‘Do you like winter?’ I ask her.
‘I love all the seasons, especially autumn and winter,’ she replies.
She adds: “You know what, I’ve even composed a poem about autumn (Herbst).
‘Oh, indeed? Then let me hear it,’ I tell her.
She clears her throat and begins to recite her own poem in a trembling voice:
Es wenden sich die Blätter
Die Wälder sind schon leer.
Bald kein einziges Mücklein,
Im Strahl der Sonne mehr.
Es naht der kalte Winter,
Mit seine weißen Pracht.
Und so freuen sich die Kinder
Zu eine Schneeballschlacht.
The leaves flutter and turn
The forests are already empty.
Soon there won’t even be a small fly,
In the rays of the sun.
The cold winter approaches
With its white mantle.
And the children rejoice,
To enjoy a snow-ball fight.
I thanked her for the poem and we parted. I’m sure we’ll meet again in the bus someday. At the main railwaystation I take the regio train to Basle. The train speeds past the hillocks with vineyards of Ebringen and I get off at Bad Krözingen, not bad-crossing, but a place known for its spa. I take a smaller train to Staufen. And here begins a journey like in the story of Hellmut Holthaus which is incidentally also the introduction to the traditional town-stories (STAdtGESchichten), which the Staufener prefer to call STAGES.
“Paint a fairy tale town for me…” goes the story of a town called Staufen. It is a lovely little town with cobbled streets, located below a Burg, a castle which is in ruins now, but has been pepped up with mortar on a side of the castle-wall for different events. You discern the troops of the town as they come marching to the tune of drums and flutes. They march from the Chaplain Gate to the marketplace, where they get an order from the town-carer (Vogt) to guard Staufen. The market-in-charge proclaims the strict rules addressed to the owners of taverns and inns and the market-vendors. The town-guards in their quaint costumes bringe the People’s Tower under their control, the Malefiz Tower and the Baders Loch too.
It being the Middle Ages, you can hear the fiddles, tambourines and wonderful music, smell and try the tasty wines and get a whiff of delicious meat being roasted in the open fires, and other appetising Middle Age specialities being prepared in the frying pans.
Some 600 people of Staufen are dressed in colourful long gowns and the males have hats on, the maidens with braided or long flowing hair. There are earnest and motley clothed people in the streets: a man with a beige coloured sloppy hat and long gown and jacket goes past you. He could be a rich merchant. A charcoal-smeared old woman with a white cloth on her head, white smog and prussian blue tunic.
Along the Hauptstrasse and Kirchstrasse are vendors selling jewellery, clothes, leatherware, historical music instruments. Staufen’s marketplace dates back to the Town Laws passed in the 14th Century and they’ve retained this feature even today. Meanwhile, cavalier with a rouge feathered hat, set at a rakish, white shirt with laces and a fine cape saunters by. He smiles that cynical smile of the arrogant gentry. A knight wearing a chain-armour struts by, armed with a lance and a heavy sword. All the people go aside where, and when, he appears. A red haired woman plays the tambourine—selfconscious and proud. Red-headed women were ridiculed and burned as witches formerly. This woman is strong, defiant and admirable. A wonderful person.
A squire and his timid wife float by and she gives you a broad grin. She’s wearing a blue and maroon dress and holds her spouses’s arm, lest he look at other damsels. Jolly drinking peasants with jugs in their hands and ale and beer in their bellies. A young maiden with a face that hauntingly similar to Angelina Jolie has a falcon on her right hand. A bearded German comes along playing bagpipes and he stoops to thank a generous lady with a beautiful hat, red lips, blue eyes and golden dress, nods and disappears in the crowd.
There’s music in the air. Music and dance have changed through the centuries. The atmosphere is filled with tones from bagpipes, guitars, mandolins, drums, flutes and beckon you to dance. There’s almost every music to suit one’s taste: boogie woogie, stepdance, from the peasant’s polka to the courtly menuette. You can’t help being infected by the rhythms and tunes.
Cannon-fire, jugglers, vendors, the poor and the rich, people belonging to different epoches at a hiatus in Staufen. The torch bearers march through the inner part of the town, followed by the musicians, the display of the badges of Staufen on the flags and shields, the knights of Staufen. The talk is about the courage of the heroes (Heldenmut), followed by a clashing of swords, the honour of the knights, even quarrels among the neighbours. Everything of significance seems to be unfurling in this Staufener kaleidoscope right before your eyes.
It was in September 24, 1848 that the freedom fighters under the command of Gustav Struve and his wife Amalie marched from Lörrach to the town of Staufen. Whereas Struve’s fighters are fired with thoughts of freedom, the people of Staufen have their fears. You see Gustav Struve demanding a republic from the Town Council’s balcony as the revolutionary fighters build barricades on the streets and bridges. A general named Hoffmann comes to Staufen with the government troops of the duke of Baden and what results is a fierce battle. Cannons and muskets are fired from the gate-walls of Staufen by the revolutionists and the government guards. The revolution has begun and the people sway the tricolour flag: black, red and yellow. A lot of people die or are wounded and as the veil of smoke from the cannons vanishes, so do the republican hopes of the people who fought for a revolution 160 years ago. Gustav Struve manages to flee. What remains are the dead musicians, citizens, debris and smoking cannon balls on the Staufener facade.
If you ask me whether I’ll go to the next Zeitreise in Staufen (time travel), you bet I surely will..