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The Non Sliding side of Sliding. Subcategory: KRAMPUS!! | RindyLoucks.com

The Non Sliding side of Sliding. Subcategory: KRAMPUS!!

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In December in certain areas of Austria and Germany (apparently the Bavarian regions) a very strange occurrence takes place. To us outsiders at least. And if you dare to be out on the streets on Dec 5 then you take your life in your hands. Well…ok, that is a bit of an exaggeration. But you do put the sanctity of any unbruised legs at risk. And ever more so as the evening progresses and ‘they’ have imbibed more at each stop along their travels around their villages or towns.

The ‘they’ I speak of are the Krampus! And what is a Krampus you ask?

Well Wikipedia describes them as “a mythological hairy horned figure that was a close companion of St. Nicholas. He complimented the giving of gifts during the Christmas season by beating children who misbehaved with birch branches or by carrying them off in his sack.”

Well I can attest that as the tradition has carried on St. Nicholas has acquired a large posse of Krampus to join him on his travels, ‘children’ has turned into any one caught on the street (or minding their own business eating their dinner in their pension…or the local hofbrauhaus) and, as most adults won’t fit in a sack, guess what we get? Yeah...the beating!

I have happened to be in Igls and Konigssee for training and races on two occasions when the Krampus were let loose. I had of course heard the stories and so the first time I encountered them, unprepared after turning a corner enroute back to our pension in Igls, I was petrified! Thankfully that was the night they were just giving the whole thing a ‘test run’ for the town Xmas pageant as opposed to THE night of wickedness (Dec 5) where all bets are off and if you are caught then the begeezes is whipped out of you!

In Austria, on my first encounters with them, I learned quite a bit about them as the pack seemed to end their night of whipping extravaganza with a final turn around the dining room at our pension and then promptly parked themselves at the bar in the lounge. The masks came off (though the odorous and moist sheepskins and furs stayed intact) and I managed to have a conversation with one of them.

The masks were quite lovely in their craftsmanship and were quite honestly an artisan piece. I also learned that the masks were generally handed down from generation to generation, father to son. The mask maker(s) had typically been perfecting their craft also for generations. It was a men’s club only. No women Krampus thank you very much. And there in Igles there were only the one ‘sort’ of Krampus. Hairy, horned ones bearing birch whips and the wooden, carved masks.

Trust the Germans to take it up a notch!

My second encounter with the Krampus was in Berchtesgaden, Germany. We just happened to be there on the festival of the Krampus. Which started at about 3 in the afternoon. And there was no missing that the festival had started nor, as the evening wore on, that they were still somewhere in the town for you could hear the distinctive ‘clonging’ of the massive bells on the night air that some of them bore upon their backs. Now I say ‘some’ of them for in the German clans (as I am going to refer to them as) it would seem there is a hierarchy within the Krampus. How it is determined who is in what level and when or how I will never know…for I never got close enough to ask!! Not really.

Anyway, a short summary of the differing Krampus (in my own vernacular)are:

"The Haystacks". We figured they must be low man on the totem pole for the pure fact that it must suck to be them.

"The Bell Bearers". Not sure where they fit in to the hierarchy but I figure somewhere just marginally up from the Haystacks as, again, it must suck to be them. Lugging around these ENORMOUS bells. Many of them with as many as five or six of them on their backs…from when the festival started until when the final bell had rung. Which by all sounds was about 11pm.

"The Enforcer Sockheads". These fellows were down right scarey!!! They seemed to be the protectors of the Bell Bearers and all things Krampus. Besides being the appointed protectors/arse kickers for the Bell Bearers they also have the added ‘duties’ (read: heck of a good time) of whipping, chasing and ‘ashing’.

The ashing was a new one to me. For this it seems they tend to only target the women. Apparently it is some fertility thing and they are ‘marking’ the women. Huh??? Anyway these fiendish, wiry fellows are quick and sly with the ashing distribution.

I was initially quite oblivious to this part of the tradition as I was innocently standing on the side of the road watching the parade of St. Nic et al go by when I was ‘sucker swiped’ by a Sockhead as he passed me by. At least I didn’t get whipped. Yet.

Thus I had been ‘marked’. The reality is that the ‘ash’ these days is greasepaint. Not the best smelling stuff and rather hard to get off. I had a very rosy cheek by the time I had managed to scrub it off just prior to going to dinner.

Next up are what I would think are the top of the Krampus food chain…

"The Demons". These fellows up the ‘frightening factor' by a few notches!! And I am certain there is many a child whimpering when they see them. Many of the masks are downright chilling. Gone is the rustic craftsmanship seen in the Austrian masks. However the odorous furs and sheepskins, horns etc are all still part of these fellow’s attire. And they too have bells, smaller though. Considered, I suppose, to be their ‘fair warning’ system. I.e: they let you know they were coming and you were the moron who didn’t heed the warning!

Such was the case when we were out to dinner at the local Hofbrauhaus. A small group of us were in a corner table, enjoying our special Xmas microbrew as we awaited our dinner when the tell tale clanging started up somewhere in the establishment. St. Nic and his wee angels (wait! Angels? When did they come into the picture??) were seen gliding around the tables....when our view was suddenly blocked. Alas, we had been spotted huddling in the corner trying to blend into the woodwork and apple decorations. Apparently we didn’t do a very good job of it and thus we found ourselves staring up at a VERY large Demon (I swear he was at least 6'5")at the foot of our table who was speaking, German of course, and requesting something of the one of us on the outer edge of the bench. When it was determined that we were English speakers ‘our’ Demon very magnanimously spoke English to us and requested that the outer person move so he, Demon fellow, could sit beside me!!

And my freshly scrubbed cheek got another ashing. Once again I had been marked!

However…after said ashing our Demon fellow stayed and was a rather chatty chappy for a bit ...

...before he was once again called away to duty. Clang, clang, clang.

Our Krampus filled evening carried on as we met our fellow sliding peers in the squares and market spaces around the town. More whippings, chasings and ashing transpired as, and this is the insane part, the Krampus were goaded by the man folk. Us girls just screamed and squealed as we tried to run away, hide or otherwise blend in to the stone walls. All in all though it was a fun, if not odd, festival that created good memories and great stories.

And now you are forewarned! Dec 5. Germany. Austria. Beware the Krampus!