Wednesday, February 20, 2008

Fasnacht, Schmutziger Donnerstag - "Dirty Thursday"


Wow, so I don't even know where to begin on this subject. Fasnacht (sort of a Mardi Gras carnival) is a tradition over 500 years old and is celebrated in parts of Germany and Switzerland. Luzern is said to have the best Fasnacht in Switzerland and although I have not seen the celebrations in Basel or Bern, I definitely believe it. At 4:30am the four Americans got in the car with my cousin Philipp and his son Cedric, who were in costume as an old man and a cowboy, respectively.

Due to traffic, the four of us had to jump out of the car and literally jog across to the other part of town, past the water bridge, to the Schwanenplatz, where we were meeting up with my aunt Helena and her friend Gertrud. We stood lakeside with thousands of others to watch the Fritschi father and his wife arrive on a boat. The Fritschi father has a long history, from what I have been able to find out, it appears that Brother Fritschi was a member of the Safran Guild which was a merchants association with a reputation for attracting daredevils and warmongers, now the Guild is a bit more "civilized" and part of what they do is uphold the customs of Fritschi and Fasnacht. In any event, this year Fritschi was kidnapped by the town of Basel but the party still continued. Fritschi's wife was on this boat and at 5am everything started. Fireworks went off on the boat and Fritschi's wife and her escorts came ashore and made their way to the square in front of the town hall. It was a sight to see, young and old stood in costume waiting for another explosion of confetti and to be pelted by oranges and cookies. This is called the "orange battle" (which I accidently translated to my friends as the orange massacre - hey it sounds more fun like that anyway!).

The basic gist of Fasnacht is to celebrate and eat before 40 days of Lenten fasting, however it has animistic roots as well - the goal is to look scary and make a hell of a lot of noise to scare the winter demons away and bring spring.

Each day is sponsored by a different guild and Thursday is always sponsored by the Safran Guild. So after the big celebration in the square, we were invited to the Safran guild breakfast in the city hall, a very exclusive, ultra VIP event that most Swiss have never had the opportunity to experience. We had a lovely breakfast, watched some yodelers, some carnival bands, some old men dressed as women, and an impromptu conga line through the hall. It was surreal.

After breakfast we headed back home for a nap as we were going to need all the rest we could get to get through the rest of the day. In the afternoon we headed back down to town to watch the parade of bands and floats, but first we had an interview to give to a Swiss radio station. Radka had asked me earlier if we would be up for an interview as the station where she works, DRS Radio, were totally interested in these 4 Americans who came to Switzerland to experience Fasnacht. Under normal circumstances I think I would have been too embarrassed to do this but, not giving my friends an option - I said ok, I mean this was a once in a lifetime experience! So much to our mortification, Kiki, Rob, Elisa and I were interviewed by Dario from DRS Radio. My friends in English and me in Swiss-German - it was priceless. After our 15 minutes of fame we watched some more of the parade, which was fantastic. Absolutely stunning costumes and amazing music. I also happened to get doused in baby powder by some grown men dressed as infants (sometimes that's not so far from the actual truth - ha ha ha).

After a while we were pretty cold and went to my aunt Amay's home for tea and pastries. In Switzerland they make special pastries just for Fasnacht (something like an elephant ear - fried dough and powdered sugar), delicious! We listened to our interview come on the radio, listened to some bands playing in the square below and headed back home. After eating AGAIN, we get into our costumes, Rob as Sammy Davis Jr, Elisa and Kiki in traditional Fasnacht dresses and me as an old man, complete with mask and one of my grandfather's old 3 piece suits. So we met up with my cousin Alex (dressed as a Swiss guard) and his friend Patrick (dressed as some sort of alp wanderer complete with lederhosen and all). We traipsed all over town, drinking holdrio (rosehip tea and schnapps) and beer, eating all the food Alex's au pair brought us (basically anything we wanted). We danced to amazing bands, ate more food, drank more holdrio and had a fantastic time. Our night ended with a performance by the Vikinger, they are a carnival band made up of professional musicians, replete with singers, rappers, guitar, bass, drums, horns and they were totally AMAZING. After their show, we ate again and finally called it a night at 3:30am.

Now came the hard part - we had to walk home, uphill. It was almost as bad as the forced mountain marches I had to do with my grandmother - minus the yodeling. At 4am as Radka was heading to work, we stumbled into the house and collapsed into bed. I think it was one of the most memorable and amazing days of my life.

Notes on the pictures.
1- The Fritschi House in Luzern's old town
2- 5am at the Fritschi Fountain
3- The bad guys from Basel who stole Fritschi
4- The babies
5- Ready to go and in costume

1 comment:

LUFTYLDR said...

Ha Ha...you can't fool me...that's really James and Clive in that picture with the two girlies!!!! Love to all...Tom