The carnival season – known throughout the German-speaking world as “Fasching” or “Karneval”, but referred to here in Tirol as “Fasnacht” – sees all manner of weird and wonderful beings roaming the streets. This year the festivities will not be able to take place due to coronavirus restrictions, so we wanted to take this opportunity to transport this centuries-old tradition to your home.
Carnival in Tirol revolves around a number of figures, each of whom has a very specific role and symbolism. The “Tuxer” can be easily reconignised by their Lederhosen, white shirts and carved masks. They represent travelling tradesmen from the Zillertal Valley, who in centuries past would sell their goods throughout Europe. “Klötzler” can often be heard before they are seen. They wear costumes decorated with hundreds of wooden squares which click and clack as they dance their way through the streets. The “Schleicher” come close to the watching masses and try to scare them with loud shouts and cries. All of them date back many hundreds of years, to a time when carnival parades in February were held to drive out the harsh winter and usher in a bountiful year. Scroll down to learn more about some of the most important carnival traditions and celebrations in Tirol.
Eingraben: This spooky yet comical tradition, which translates quite simply as “burying”, is held every five years in the town of Telfs. As the celebrations there (Telfer Schleicherlaufen) draw to a close, a “funeral” is held complete with crocodile tears and theatrical wailing as the “Naz” is buried – a figure symbolising carnival itself. The carnival season in Tirol traditionally ends on Ash Wednesday, which marks the start of the 40-day period of Lent in the Catholic Church.
Fisser Blochziehen: A group of men dressed in eccentric costumes drag a 35-metre-long tree through a small village – the tradition of “Blochziehen” in Fiss sounds like something out of The Wicker Man, but this celebration of spring and fertility has a long tradition. It features characters such as “Fuhrmänner”, “Bärentreiber” and “Bajatzl”, who come together to drive out evil spirits embodied by “Hexen” and “Schwoaftuifl” and usher in the good spirits of spring. The event traditionally ends with the tree being auctioned off to the highest bidder. The Fisser Blockziehen only takes place every four years.
Goaslschnölln: Don’t be afraid if you see people roaming the streets of Tirol with huge leather whips in their hands – they are probably just going out for a bit of “Goaslschnölln”. This hard-to-pronounce tradition dates back many centuries. Like yodelling, it was used as a means of communication from one mountain to the next. Practitioners would crack their whips in regular rhythms to send messages across vast distances. During carnival celebrations the whip-cracking is designed to drive out the evil spirits of winter – quite literally!
Hexen: “Hexen”, or “witches”, play an important role in almost all Tirolean carnival celebrations. Symbolising winter, they must be driven out to make way for the warmth of spring. Witches wear intricately carved wooden masks, the earliest of which date all the way back to the 18th century. Behind the masks are mostly men. As they make their way through the streets, the witches use their brooms to poke, jab and brush at the feet of the onlookers.
Imster Schemenlaufen: The tradition of “Imster Schemenlaufen” features on the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage List and normally draws many thousands of visitors to the small town of Imst in the west of Tirol. Taking place every four year, it sees around 900 men dress up in all manner of weird and wonderful costumes and process through the streets in their roles as “Roller” and “Scheller”, who always appear together. They are preceeded by “Kübelemajen”, “Sackner” and “Spritzer”, who force their way through the crowd to make way for the “Roller” and “Scheller”. Confused? Don’t worry, it all makes sense when you see it with your own eyes.
Fighting: Carnival in Tirol can be a pretty physical affair. The tradition of Wampelerreiten pits local men against each other in a test of strength. However, the main battle fought at carnival processions in Tirol is good against evil, spring against winter. Some traditions can be traced back to pre-Christian times, when spirits were conjured up, embodied and driven out of the land.
Masks: Almost all partcipants wear wooden masks, known in Tirol as “Larven”. These intricately carved face-coverings are often family heirlooms passed down from one generation to the next. They are carved and painted by experienced craftsmen. Depending on location and tradition, masks can be very different. For example, the masks used for the carnival celebrations in Nassereith are created by local artist and sculptor Franz Josef Kranewitter.
Muller& Matschgerer: The settlements to the north-east of Innsbruck have their own carnival traditions unlike any else in Tirol. The MARTHA villages (Mühlau, Arzl, Rum, Thaur & Absam) are home to the “Muller” and the “Matschgerer”. Depending on hierarchy, decoration and choreography, they are divided up into “Tuxer”, “Melcher”, “Zaggler” and “Zottler”. Unlike other carnival characters, the “Muller” and “Matschgerer” can also be seen at traditional balls in January and February performing. There are also events known as “Mullerschaug’n” where they appear in local taverns in the region.
Nassereither Schellerlaufen: The tradition of “Schellerlaufen” in Nassereith takes place only every three years and has also been included in the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage List. It is one of the most beautiful carnival processions in the region thanks to the colourful baroque costumes and wonderfully carved masks worn by the 450 participants as they parade through this small village with a population of just 2,000. The next Schellerlaufen will be in 2023.
Telfer Schleicherlaufen: Loud and proud is the best way to describe the tradition of Schleicherlaufen in Telfs. Taking place every five years, it sees local men make their way through the streets wearing heavy bells and eye-catching costumes. It is also part of the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage and brings togethr around 500 participants.