05 July, 2012

A Medieval Festival in a Medieval Town


Every year since 1997, Horb am Neckar has hosted a Medieval Festival in celebration of the signing of the Contract of Horb on June 10th, 1498. At the time that the contract was signed, Maximilian was King of Württemberg. Hence the name of the festival: Maximilian Ritterspiele. For more details, see the festival website.

The festival consisted of a medieval-style market with artisans selling their handiwork: blacksmiths, dyers, weavers, potters, shoemakers, armorers, tailors, you name it! Throughout the market there were also musical groups playing renaissance music on period instruments. A section of the city was set up as a medieval camp with meat cooking on open fires and knights lounging under canvas tents.

Perhaps the most exciting part of the festival that I saw was the knights' tournament. This event reminded me of my visit to "Medieval Times" near Chicago. The tournament was scripted, but the horses and lances were real. I put together a little video of the event including some subtitles of the dialog.


I was only slightly disappointed by the flag troupe which performed before the knights came on. They were doing some really cool tricks with the flags, but after watching so much Drum and Bugle Corps, well, it just doesn't compare. They could have done a lot better with just a snare and bass drum laying down a beat or even just a fife.

During the tournament, the knights competed in various tasks in order to win the golden sword which had been sponsored by the townsfolk. These tasks included grabbing goblets off a fence from a moving horse, hooking rings on a lance, spearing a mock-pig, shooting a mock-bear with an arrow and of course, jousting. The jousting was done with highly modified lances that shattered harmlessly on impact, but the riders still threw themselves convincingly mid-gallop from their saddles.

It was a summer day well spent at the Horber Ritterspiele. I would highly recommend any in the area next summer to stop by.

04 July, 2012

May-day Hike

The first of May is a national holiday in Germany. It is tradition to go for a hike on the first of May, a.k.a. eine Erster-Mai-Wanderung. This year the weather was perfect for a long hike: temperature in the lower 70s, sunny, and not too windy. I went on a hike with some folks from church. We drove about 15 minutes out of town to a spring called Breitenbachquelle. There, we grilled some bratwurst and then set out on a long hike around the countryside. At the half-way point we stopped at a beer garden for some refreshment of the liquid bread type and then returned to where we started and grilled the last of the bratwurst. All told, I think the hike was about 11 kilometers long. Here are the pictures I took along the way:


03 July, 2012

Fasnet in Rottenburg am Neckar and Rottweil

Earlier this year I went to two very different Fasnet parades in nearby towns. Fasnet is the equivalent of Carnival in Southern Germany. It is celebrated the week before the beginning of Lent and, as I learned during my visits to Rottenburg am Neckar and Rottweil, it can be celebrated in very different ways.

I'm no expert on Fasnet parades. For details, you'll have to do research on your own. According to the Wikipedia article on Fasnet, it is a symbol of driving the evil spirits of winter out of the town. These spirits can take many different forms. In Rottenburg a. N., there are scary-looking witches that dump straw on you or vice-versa (yes, they also dumped people in buckets of straw).

Witches in Rothenburg am Neckar


But, there are also nice wood fairies (Narren) that gave kids candy. And occasionally there was a band playing "Guggenmusik." The Fasnet parade in Rottenburg had a much different feel than any parades I had been to in the US. There was significantly more interaction between the paraders and the spectators, the straw being one example. At first, I thought of it as rude that a complete stranger dressed up as a witch would dump straw on my head, but after a while I realized that it was all quite friendly.

In Rottenburg, the parade is open to Vereine (clubs) from different towns. A Verein might be a pack of witches or a troupe of fairies or a marching band. Each one has their own signature costume. Membership to a Verein of this type is gained by invitation only. The fairy troupes also have sets of bells that they wear over their shoulders. Here's a picture of one such fairy troupe:

Narren

The atmosphere at the Fasnet parade in Rottweil was completely different. First of all, it was not open to clubs from different towns, so the variety of fairy characters was limited. There is a list with pictures and German descriptions of the seven types of costumes here on the Rottweil City website. Each Narr had its own personality and interacted with the crowd accordingly. For example, the Federahannes carried long wooden poles with cow tails attached to one end with which they caressed bystanders' cheeks. It was quite bizarre to be approached by such a gruesome visage only to be gently petted on the cheek.

Federahannes

Other notable characters of the Rottweiler Fasnet were the Rössle (horse) and drivers. There were nine sets of horse and drivers throughout the parade. Each "horse" having two drivers who used very loud bull whips in order to keep him in line. Here's a picture of one of the trios:

Horse and Drivers

...but a video would be much better in this case:


In the above video, you can also see one of the marching bands that was at the parade in Rottweil. There were maybe four different bands present and they all alternated playing the same song. I didn't get a chance to ask a local what the song was, but I'm guessing it's some sort of town anthem. You also may notice in the video, that they are brandishing those whips right under the spectators' noses; another thing that would probably be avoided in the USA. But these guys knew how to handle their whips and I didn't see a single stroke fall astray.

Rottweil is a charming town in its own regard with wide streets and close-packed, half-timber buildings. A beautiful backdrop for a unique cultural experience.

Rottweil