European Ethnology: FASNET IN FREIBURG-KAPPEL (Satis Shroff)
Narri! Narro! The fasnet has begun and the scary and hideous Schauinsland Berggeister, spirits from the mountains, have stormed the local kindergarten and school. The spirits are motley attired, and spring and prance about, wearing their masks and costumes and make the children happy because they also distribute goodies in the form of bon-bons, sweets, chocolates, popcorn in small plastic bags. The children just love it, sing and dance with the Berggeister on this day. No classworks, no homeworks. Just fun and cheerfulness is the order of the day.
The next target of the Berggeister is the Kappeler town council when the mayor is obliged to hand over the key of the council to the Berggeister as a sign of courteousness and surrender to the Berggeister who then take over the show, throw confetti from the windows and at the otherwise stiff civil servants. Civilized and controlled anarchy spreads everywhere for even though people drink alcohol, they do behave themselves and are decent, though jovial and in high spirits. On the next day February 12, 2010 there’s a Bruachtumsabend at 8:11 pm during which the traditions and customs are re-told to the visitors in the festival hall where they’re all gathered. Then comes the Children’s Fasnet on February 14, followed by the burial of the Fasnet on February 16 in the form of a symbolic figure, during which the witches, Berggeister and other eerie masked figures weep loudly and bid adieu to winter. The last fasnet event is the Scheibensclagen at the Eschenwegle on February 27 during which burning pieces of glowing wood are shot into the starry, wintry sky. It looks like playing gold from a hilltop. Instead of caddies children take delight in gathering the flying blazing wood, after they’ve cooled down a bit.
Freiburg celebrates Rose Monday with a procession in which lots of participants and on-lookers watch the floats going past the Bertold’s fountain along the Kaiser Joseph street. The procession commences at 2 pm with over 100 cliques or vereins, as associations are called in German. It might be fun if you can recognise the Guenterstaeler Bohrer, the Waldsee matrosen, the Schnogedaetscher, the Wuehlmaeuse of Littenweiler and, of course, the Schauinsland Berggeister.
There is also a magical and mystical element in the fasnet celebrations for we still tend to be superstitious and still knock on wood to wish ourselves luck or to make a wish when we see a chimney-sweep passing by. You’re even supposed to touch him or her. Actually it was a profession for men but now even women don the black attire of the chimney sweep. Through gendering, women at last approaching, if not encroaching, the bastions of the patriarchs, which is a good thing. Not only astronomy but also astrology has entered the parlours and is here to stay. There are Germans and other Alpine folk who still avoid certain odd numbers because they are regarded as inauspicious and bring one misfortune and bad luck. I remember experiencing the custom of caressing a piglet in a basket to bring you luck in the following year. That was when I was visiting some friends in the Rhone area. Whereas some Swiss masks from the Alps and Italy tend to be scary, most masks from the Swabian-Allemanic fasnet have been polished and gone aesthetic. The fasnet tradition still possesses Germanic and so-called heathen and pagan cultural elements.
During the strict Reformation many customs of the fasnet celebrations had to be relinquished so that only a vestigial part remained. Even the swine’s bladder swinging Schuddig from the Elzach Valley had to change his costume. The masks and costumes had to go with the times. Even in the old Reichsstadt Rottweil, which is known for its springing-of-the-knaves (Narrensprung), the old Schantle still wears a dress with a cape made of brown textile. In Freiburg we have the Blue Narre, who wears big bells and a blue costume, the Fasnetrufer with multicoloured patchwork scales, and a smiling wooden face with two prominent teeth, and the Herdamer Lalli, with his rouge-noir dress and a tongue that sticks out. Günter Grass wrote a book-title ‘Zunge zeigen’ about the former Calcutta which is Kolkota in the Bengali tongue. Grass depicted Kali showing her red tongue. In Europe, when a person shows his or her tongue, it means that the person is not of the same opinion and it is his or her way of showing emotional negation. In South Asia showing your tongue means you’re embarrassed or ashamed.
There are a few wooden sculptors who make wooded masks in the Black Forest. One such sculptor is Herr Lang, who has a shop-cum-workshop near the tennis court in Elzach (www.holzbildhauerei.de). He says: ‘We’ve been making Fasnacht masks since 50 years out of lime-wood. Our customers come from the entire Allemanic area and also Elzach, Waldkirch and Endingen. Just call us and we’ll make a fasnet mask for you.’
Heinz Wintermantel, has written a book ‘Hoorig, hoorig isch die Katz,’ which is a fasnet motto from Schramberg (near Oberndorf) where you are obliged to sing this song with the fasnet-figure, and after the song is over you’re blessed with a brezel, a round, salty bread. The blessing is called Brezelsegen. Wintermantel says: ‘The feasting, wearing of masks and processions are a compensation for the days of fasting that follow. Fasnacht is merely the time between Thursday till Ash Wednesday. The term ‘Fasnacht,’ as used in the Allemanic-Swabian celebrations, is thought to have been changed to Fastnacht at the turn of the 12th century under the influence of Christian Middle Ages. The oldest source about the Fasnacht in Freiburg dates back to 1283 in a document of the cloister Adelshausen in which the Fasnacht is mentioned. This meaning exists till this day and has been integrated into the Christian calender and shows a lot of Christian aspects. We know that Christianity embraced the so-called pagan symbols, traditions, customs and changed their names. Christianity was no longer involved in struggling against the personified natural calamities. If something terrible like an earthquake, landslides, avalanches in the Alps, a disease like plague (now Aids, MRC etc) or volcanic eruptions occurred, people who read the bible closely, were religious or spiritual, called it the punishment of God. And with this thought of punishment it was pointed that human beings are sinners and indecent. The sinners were symbolised by the motley coloured and thus stained and impure clothes of the knaves (Narrenkleid). The symbol of the spiritually pure person became the white colour of baptism. This is also the reason why the church never challenged the roots of fasnet or fasnacht that lay in so-called heathen customs. In this context it is interesting to note that the Hindus also wear white as a sign of ritual purity during the initiation ceremony and during funerals.
Since winter is a long and bitter season, the ancestors of the Swabian-Allemanic fasnet fought against the demonic powers by wearing terrifying, hideous masks to fight the ice, snow, mountain mist and snow-storms and thus banished winter by burning its effigy and gave vent to their primordeal emotions by shouting, cursing, screaming, making noises, jumping and springing in the air in just the same wild manner as evil spirits are wont to do.
Even today, if you visit the Allemanic-Swabian fasnet celebrations, you’ll see these scary masks and the masked and costumed figures scream and shout as their ancestors did. Another old tradition to be seen in Kappel is the Scheibenschlagen ceremony along the Eschenwegele, where a big bon-fire is made and the glowing pieces of wood cut in squares are shot to the Dreisam Valley below. If the piece of glowing wood doesn’t fly and is a dud, you might have bad luck this year.
Next week I’m off to the celebrate the three most beautiful days of the year in Basle (Switzerland) at 4pm. Ghoulish atmosphere. Suddenly, you hear the shrill piccollo flutes and the beating of loud drums. The beginning of ‘drey scheenste Dääg.’ There’s nothing like it.
Grüezi! Welcome to Basle in Switzerland.