Landluft and Horse Festival in St. Märgen, Schwarzwald (Satis Shroff)
St. Märgen is an attractive cloister hamlet in the heart of the Black Forest. It is 15km away from Titisee, a glacial lake-town, and 20km from Freiburg. It has deep valleys, green meadows, mountain streams and the air is so fresh and healthy. It also has over 60 trekking trails. The reason why I went to St. Märgen was the Roßfest or horse festival on a sunny Sunday afternoon. I went with Ursula Fruttiger and Philip, both musicians from Buchenbach, another hamlet near Freiburg-Kappel.
Early in the morning at 6:30am, the people of St. Märgen were woken up by the traditional band of the hamlet and the riding and driving clubs, followed by the competition of the best horses from the Schwarzwald at 8am. There was a festival mass in the churches and, of course, the Frühschoppen concert in the local Weißtannen hall, with musical accompaniment from the Trichtinger band.
The traditionally decorated horses and their owners were awarded their medals and prizes. The red-cheeked owners looked proud and the horses couldn’t care less, as they snorted and stamped their restless hoofs. After that the strong, hard-working horses were blessed by the priest. There was a lot of oomph created by the St. Märgen Trachtenkapelle. Horses from Marbach were presented and then began the famous horse-procession through the hamlet, ending in the lush green meadows where beer, wine, soft-drinks and Schwarzwälder gastronomic delights awaited you in big tents. The bands, wagons, participants on foot came from: St. Märgen, Titisee-Jostal, Breitnau, St. Peter, Waldau, Buchenbach and the farmer’s band from Saig.
Among the horse-festival participants were also the clock-makers, glass-makers and the herbal witches. Two brothers from the Black Forest named Georg and Mathias Kreutz were the first to construct wooden balance clocks in the year 1660. That was the beginning of the Black Forest clocks, which have become a trademark of the Schwarzwald and are now on exhibit in Shanghai today. A cuckoo is a migratory bird which deposits its eggs in the nests of other birds but the Black Forest cuckoo clocks and the story of the lonesome clockmaker are legendary. The Black Forest clock industry began in the 18th century and the clocks have been exported since then. The cuckoo clocks have their place in the households throughout the world. I remember my friend Kunda’s mom, Deviji, proudly showing me her exquisitely carved cuckoo clock in her living room (baithak) at Patan Durbar.
You can also take part in a herbal trek with the local Kräuterwieble from Krummholzenhof near St. Märgen. In German ‘kraut’ means a herb, c and A ‘wieble’ or ‘weib’ means a woman. In German ‘kraut’ can mean a herb, cabbage and weed. If we German say ‘wie Kraut und Rüben’ which is literally means ‘it’s cabbage and carrots’ it means something is higgledy-piggledy, that is, in a jumble.
Since the Black Forest homesteads have an isolated existence due to their location on the spurs, sloped and valleys of the blue mountains, the herbal-women, glass-sellers and clock-makers had to often travels on foot and sell their wares. A kräuterwieble wears a traditional flowery scarf, self-made dress, a white blouse with sleeves that reach upto the elbow, straw shoes, carries herbal cures on a make-shift wooden backpacker and a long flowing skirt with an apron. She pushes her two wheeled wooden barrow up and down the country roads.
The charming, young kräuterwieble takes you for a three-hour walk along the Black Forest countryside and says: ‘Your soul will be delighted as we search, gather, cook and eat from the abundant Nature. You can leave your kids at home so that you can relax, and we’ll walk even when the weather’s bad. You’re going to be astonished at what we’ll pluck and eat, and your palate will be delighted. Nature is so rich in nutritive food but you can partake of this meal from the wilderness only if you are a knowing person. I shall accompany you as a herbal-woman, have no fear. With me you can discover, see, know the difference, call the plant by name in the tranquil landscape, and discover the beauty of it all. I invite you to a landscape where there’s a farmer’s homestead, away from the tumult of the world.’
The kräuterwieble’s tour takes you from Krummholzenhof to Schweigbrunnen, Hinterhot, Vorderhof, the forest called Rohrwald, Pfändlerhanshof, Schweigehof, Tännlehof and back.
Horses are warm-blooded mammals but are racially classified into cold-blooded horses used for drawing ploughs or wagons, warm-blooded riding horses and fast, galloping full-blood categories according to their anatomy, strength and running capabilities. In the southern Schwarzwald with its picturesque peaks and valleys and its homesteads, we have the original cold-blood horses (Kaltblutpferde). The Roßfest is organised every three years followed by a historical procession in which the farmers and their families take part wearing traditional clothes, and displaying old agricultural implements. The kaltblut horse has become a cultural heritage of Baden-Württemberg and is found everywhere in the world now because it is a thoroughbred, lives long and is fecund till a ripe age. A horse that doesn’t get tired easily, possesses swinging movements and is extremely tenacious. Suits the mental set-up of the Black Forest farmer, where the winters are long, snowy, icy and extremely cold. Tenacity is in demand not only in the case of horses but also humans out here.
A Schwarzwälder has to go with the seasons, like the Nepalese, Bhutanese and Sikkimese farmers in the craggy Himalayas.