Driving out the winter, Bavarian-style

When the whipcrackers let rip

Driving out the winter, Bavarian-style

When the whipcrackers let rip

Soft, green meadows, permeated by gently whispering streams and surrounded by majestic mountains: In the region around Saaldorf-Surheim, in Rupertiwinkel, in the Berchtesgaden region, all is calm. The hustle and bustle of the city feels a long way away. Yet from the distance comes a repeated flicking sound. The noise of whipcracking cuts through the silence and develops into a delightful melody. It comes from the whips – known as Goaßln – of the “Aperschnalzer”, or whipcrackers. A group of gaily clad men stand in a row. They swing their three-metre long whips in the air and snap them down.

Whipcracking is a tradition in the foothills of the Alps that dates back several centuries. Still today, these groups, or “Passen”, continue to crack their whips with great fervour. In this way they are actively maintaining a piece of Bavarian history – including Bernhard Kern: The Mayor of Saaldorf-Surheim is the first Chairman of the Whipcracking Society of Rupertiwinkel. For him, whipcracking is not merely a part of Bavarian identity but also “a strong magnet: Whenever the whipcrackers perform, more than a thousand spectators come to watch,” says Kern.

 

 

Whipcrackers: Driving out the evil forces of darkness

The appearance of the whipcrackers is always a cause for celebration – especially as they only appear between Christmas and Lent. “If we appeared at any other time, it would cease to have anything to do with the original custom. After all, Father Christmas doesn’t wander about in the summer,” explains Bernhard Kern.

The fact that the whipcrackers swing their whips at this particular time is all to do with their history: Winters here used to be severe and hard: There was no electric heating, and no electricity. The people in the Berchtesgaden region were grateful when the dark time of year finally came to an end. The whipcracking was designed to speed that process along: The loud cracking of the whips was used by residents to drive out the evil spirits of cold and darkness.

Young and old join in the competition

Nowadays it is primarily about tradition: “Here in the village, children grew up with this custom,” explains Kern. “We are lucky that our young people love to join in – so we have no problem getting the next generation involved.” He himself was born into a whipcracking family. His parents and grandparents were also whipcrackers. All the members of the society are connected and bound together by friendship and tradition.

Every year, 1,700 whipcrackers from the Salzburg and Bavarian regions come face to face. In front of a large audience, the best whipcrackers are crowned at the great Rupertigau whipcracking competition. There’s no need for any musical accompaniment. “We make the music ourselves, with our “Goaßln”, says Kern. Besides, it would only serve to distract the seven judges. “They don’t watch the whipcrackers, but just listen and judge by the sound alone. In the end it is the group that has the best rhythm and therefore the best ‘music’ that wins. In order to get a better impression, you really need to hear it,” he says with enthusiasm.

The website www.schnalzen.de publishes the next dates of the whipcracking performances and invites visitors to come and experience for themselves this “great traditional winter event”

Schnalzervereinigung Rupertiwinkel e.V.

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address: 83416 Saaldorf-Surheim
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web: //www.schnalzen.de