Monday, December 22, 2014

Rauhnacht and Krampus!

We stumbled into something last Saturday night and have spent the last few days trying to understand what it was. We took a visiting friend to our local Christmas market at Forst Kasten, a large beer garden very near our house. It’s a lovely setting, surrounded by woods on all sides. We can walk there on a trail from our house, or drive a few minutes when it’s colder. We’ve been to the Christmas market there before; tented stalls, a live animal nativity scene, little fire pits. But last Saturday night was different.
It was rauhnacht. We saw a demon on a sign for the Christmas market. It was a bit of a disconnect but truth be told, many things here are for me.We got our pretzels and brats and gluhwein, and only then noticed a crowd ringed around an open space. We heard drums banging, bells clanging. We saw flashes of fire but it was too crowded to see much. Phil wandered off trying to see what was going on.
And what was the performance? Well….Adam seemed to know about it from German class. He definitely knew the name. Krampus, taken from the German word “krampen” or claw. Royce kept telling me she heard “hex”, the German word for witch. She saw a sign that said witches and goblins got into the event for free.The kids knew that the krampus was the bad guy who went along with St. Nicholas, scaring the kids into stopping their naughty ways. This was not just a little scary; this was way scary. Big men dressed in masks with bells and whips. A lot of good frightening energy that I would like to see at Halloween when there is nothing going on here!
Basically, rauhnacht is the night krampus  come out, scare people and take the bad people away. Krampus gangs were everywhere, in furry costumes, troll heads and flashing lots of teeth. Like street performers, each group got a few minutes on the stage. The other groups wandered around in the crowd. Apparently this is a Bavarian tradition but one that has roots in lots of European cultures. More widely known is the wild men (of similar costume) who come at New Year’s to scare away evil spirits from the year ahead.
While we were looking at nativity scenes, a group of beast men came along, their eyes glowing electrically red behind their masks. Phil and the twins moved in closer, with the idea that Phil would get a photo of the kids with a krampus. (note photo above sans twins).  Somehow, a krampus grabbed Royce during the photo shoot. He put her in a neck hold, rubbed something on her hair and started to drag her off. He whipped her (lightly) as she ran away, sobbing. We talked her down but she was done with rauhnacht. We crowded around her as we moved toward the car park. Sure enough, another krampus made eye contact with us, looked like he was going to approach us but diverted. We hustled to the car, locking ourselves in. Definitely  a frightening night for all, even adults escorting the scared child away!But we’ve seen a lot of good behavior since then. We’ve had diminishing returns on the “be good, Santa is watching” thing. The krampus might have more staying power, possibly even into the upcoming teenager years.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Salzburg Christmas markets

We love the Christmas markets around Munich; the atmosphere, the Christmas ornaments, the roasted chestnuts. But we’ve been to many of them, many times. And with a friend visiting who had not been to Salzburg, it was the perfect opportunity to go international with our Christmas market exploration.

We took the train one Saturday morning (miraculously clear of kid sports, music and scouts) to Salzburg. As soon as we stepped on the train, we knew it was Christmas market time. The train was completely full . The kids sat on the floor and read but the adults stood in the aisle and watched the people. Tons of people, all sorts of people. Students, tourists, even a large bachelorette party. Luckily, most of them got off at Cheimsee, a lake halfway between Munich and Salzburg. We learned there is a lovely Christmas market on the island with an old fashioned cog train that takes you down to the water’s edge. Maybe next year. This year we were all about getting to Salzburg…and finally doing a day trip to another city, something we always want to do but have never done thus far. On this trip, we left our home at 9am and returned home around 11pm, late but happy.
We walked into Salzburg’s beautiful old town, along the river with the fortress up above us on the hill. We quickly looked around the small streets and saw the crowds and got on our bus for another Sound of Music tour! The tour was fun the second time around and this time infused with the Christmas spirit. At one point, we stopped at Mondsee, one of the many lovely Alpine lakes in the area. In front of St. Michael’s Basilica, where Maria was married, there was a small Christmas market. We looked at the stalls but saw no crafts, only food. Only then did we realize the craft part of the market was inside an ancient cloister of the former monastery. All beautiful and cozy.
Back in Salzburg, we walked through the main Christmas market in the square in front of the cathedral. A Christmas market started there in the 15th century and continued through until the World Wars. The market closed and reopened and closed and then reopened in the original spot in 1972. We walked through the traditional stalls, smelling the mulled wine and admiring – and buying- handmade Christmas decorations. The small winding cobblestone streets off the main square, like Getreidgasse and Goldgasse, are decorated with lights and stars and only added to the overall feeling of anticipation.
A friend at school recommended a newer Christmas market; the Stern Advent Market. We found it using a handy map Salzburg puts out of all their Christmas markets (lots of them) and loved it. We ate at an Italian restaurant, also recommended by the friend and loved it. There is something to be said for eating pizza (and not more market food) while watching the Christmas market through a floor to ceiling wall of glass. All the ambiance but warmer! We’d been seen these large ornaments all over Salzburg; a normal ball to put on a tree but super sized; twenty times bigger. The kids and our friend bought one for me; a big ornament from a little market. And the first Christmas decoration up in our house this season!