Archive for the ‘fasnacht’ Category

actualité: ä rüüdigi ziit

January 30, 2008

if you’re a good catholic you know that next week start the 40 days of lent. but catholics would not be catholics if they would not take this occassion to do what? fill their stomachs, drink themselves into oblivion and generally misbehave. yes, it is this time of the year again, it is time for carnival. celebrated all over the world where there is a catholic influence, from haiti to germany, i would like to point to a quite special one in the heart of switzerland: the fasnacht of lucerne.


it starts tomorrow with the schmutzige donschtig – often translated as “dirty thursday” – which is wrong, since schmutzig (in german meaning dirty) comes actually from fat (dialects, you know). rings a bell? yes, there is a parallel to mardi gras (fat tuesday). it is the kick off to 6 days of feast, finishing with the güdisziischtig – güdis meaning belly – so in these names we already find the theme of eating, filling your belly before lent. so the time of fasnacht (the local term for carnival) is a time of excess, a time of not only eating a lot. but there is more. catholizism was never shy to integrate pagan elements – and in many alpine regions that means the pagan ritual of chasing the demons of winter away. this has been done with impersonating the demons, putting on scary masks and with making noise, noise that chases these demons back up the mountains. and there is even a third aspect to it: since carneval is a time of feast, the normal rules are suspended. this is also an occassion for satire, to mock the powerful – without getting held responsible. while this third aspect is stronger in the german version of the carneval (büttenrede – satirical speeches that unfortunately become now too often boring versions of stand-up comedy) and especially at the fasnacht in basel (the satirical and very often very artful and pretty acid schnitzelbänk – speeches in rhymed form). but then basel is a strange exception to the rule: they’re protestants, their carneval is later and shorter and has less the character of a feast.

but let’s get back to lucerne: while the satirizing element is certainly present, the feast and the chasing of the winter are more in the foreground. so besides the town partying its ass off, there is an undercurrent of something darker, too. as in every carnival, costumes and masks are the thing to wear – and you see a lot of funny and silly stuff, but also eery to downright scary shit.


musically you have the guugemusige – (marching)bands having from just a few to a quite a lot of members mainly consisting of drums/percussion and a brass section. where traditionally the point was in playing loud and noisy, this has changed over the years. some guugemusige are very skilled, there are the ones playing samba and you do hear also a lot of popular tunes.


there is an organized structure during these days, organized through guilds and associations, consisting of the opening at 5 in the morning on thursday (tagwach), two parades (consisting of guugemusige and floats of a mainly satirical character), many balls in the evening, and as the great finale the monster-concert with all the guugemusige in the evening on tuesday. but what makes the real speciality and fun in lucerne is the not organized stuff. many people participate in their way: from “unofficial”, ad-hoc guugemusige to the “open drumming” in the dark in the morning (one of the most tribal experiences i ever had). and a lot of private groups – families, friends – as well as single people show up in funny, poetic, beautiful, weird or downright silly and very often elaborate costumes.



there is a constant parading, interaction with bystanders (some even link that to the italian commedia dell’ arte or to street theater) and generally an atmosphere of friendly disorder. what is even better: the people of lucerne seem to be very proud of their undisciplined way of celebrating fasnacht.


it really draws you in and suddenly you find yourself drinking kafi fertig (coffee with schnaps to, ähem, warm you up: mean shit) and dancing arm in arm with a granny (that might be behind her mask a young boy – as an aside it is to note that traditionally behind masks that portray some traditional female figures there used to be only men – i’ve never seen that many butch women with fantastic, hairy legs) and a reptile monster from outerspace. very nice.


so if that sparked your interest: it’s not too late. they start tomorrow morning at five…

and this year it will be anyway a special one: a full fledged wiiberfasnacht (women’s carnival). this is due to the fact that the father figure of the fasnacht, the one opening the festivities, bruder fritschi has been abducted by the people of basel. this happened to celebrate the first abduction by people from basel 500 years (yes, that long) ago. don’t be fooled: it’s all a big joke and is actually made to ensure the eternal friendship between basel and lucerne (because then the people from lucerne can go and retrieve him – which of course includes another big party). the consequence of all that is that the fritschene (brother fritschi’s wife) will open these wild days, hence the wiiberfasnacht. and in case you’re curious: that is how the fritschis look like:


if you would like to get a better feel for it and /or do not have the possibility to attend, here first some background information on the historic roots (in german).

here some pics, here some more pics. and here a lot more pics also from previous years (yes, the pictures of this post are from these sites).

and to give you an aural impression how these days sound i have a very interesting record for you, called guugenmusisch. put together from field recordings, it chronicles these strange days as one acoustic trip through the city. get it here (ripped from vinyl@224 as two mp3 files – cover scans with the linernotes (in german) included).


and now have ä rüüdigi ziit – because on wednesday it is all gone like a dream and it’s back to work, again…