Driving another 500 km further East for being snarled at and for getting a beating, sounds not very appealing, but my next stop was not only throughly enjoyable, but in fact I would highly recommend it to anyone !……..
Passing Munich and Salzburg, my journey took me to the North of the Dachstein Glacier, to a valley that was cut deep into the Northern Alps, forming the world famous Hallstatt Lake. To this place, which in the depth of winter never sees direct sunlight, I was invited by my British friend Chris Greaves, who owns there a house with an old soap making workshop, to witness the Krampuslauf, a gathering of nearly a thousand creatures of the underworld which had been summoned by St.Claus to give the unruly children of the valley a hard time ………
The term “Krampus” refers to the word “Krampe” or claw and these creatures which are a traditional part of the Christmas celebrations in these valleys, are dating back to pre-christian time and were believed to be of offspring of Hel, the keeper of the underworld in the Nordic mythology. St.Claus and the angels are there to keep these beasts in check – at least they are supposed to….
Throughout the event the organisers are stressing that the annual parade is very “children friendly” , but man, the kids here must be of a somewhat tougher constitution and it appears to be advisable in the valleys to listen to your parents….
Well, admittedly throughout the whole parade I never saw a single crying child and it appeared to me, that the kids actually loved it. Well, and this included being suddenly grabbed, jumped on and wiped (actually quite hard at times….) with birchwood or willow twigs!
The whole thing kicks off at 7 pm with a gunshot. The creatures of hell make their way slowly from one side of the town down the high street to the other side. While being accompanied by the odd St.Claus and a few angels who are handing out sweets to the children, the main part of the parade is behaving rather thuggishly by attacking the spectators. The wiping is always directed to the lower part of the legs and seasoned spectators have prepared themselves with shin pads or a layer of cardboard underneath their trousers. This is one event where you think twice if it is really wise to stand in the front row.
It also appeared to me that the Krampuses had a clear affinity to pretty girls, which for some weird reason seemed to be exceedingly reciprocal, the uglier and the more fearsome the creatures were……
The young men ( and some women) underneath the costumes had been making “house calls” on the two previous days (after been invited by the parents), before then gathering for the final parade. Special “clubs” spend the whole year preparing the costumes and the floats. Especially the masks take a lot of time and skill to prepare and they are changing hands for considerable amounts of money between owners and collectors.
The whole parade lasts for well over an hour, during which one stays warm with the help local Glühwein and warm Leberkas (the Austrian alternative to a burger….).
There was also a good reason why at the end of the parade all locals very quickly disappeared…..to finish everything off, the creatures finally descended from all sides on the market square making sure that everyone had the blood circulation restored in their legs before their victims could take shelter in one of the local restaurants.
Only few Krampuses could be convinced to pose for a final selfie…..
Once again it shows – there are stranger things in life than veterinary medicine ……