Yes, Schrambergers are all crazy, judging from the event this town is most famous for. Schramberg is The Hometown of Bach-na-Fahre.
Schramberg is an innocent-looking small town in the heart of the Black Forest. It is located inside a narrow valley with a little river named Schiltach. One branch of the river runs right through the centre of the town, and this stream, or canal, is the star of the show.
At Fastnacht Anno 1936 a bunch of people, in the morning after drinking all night, had a brilliant idea, one oft hat kind that you have after a long night and the consumption of large quantities of booze: Let’s go down the stream in a wooden tub. The many eye witnesses as well as the participants found this fun and entertaining, so it was repeated the following year, and the year after...
The crowd of the Bach-na-Fahrer grew larger and a tradition was born.
This is one of the weirdest and funniest events to watch in the Alemannic Fastnacht. On Carnival Monday decorated wooden tubs, each manned (or womanned) with two captains, run down the Schiltach creek through the middle of the town. The course has a total length of some 500 metres, including several slides. The tubs have neither steering nor drive. They float with the current. Most have been turned into fantastic watercrafts - locomotives, bananas, hospital beds... - and everyone wonders: will they swim, or drown?
Bach-na-Fahre is neither a race nor a competition. It is all about having fun and, if possible, arriving at the finish line, best with both captains on board their vessel. However, wading resp. swimming after it also counts. Most participants wear neoprene suits underneath their dress: Water temperature was 3.5 degrees this time. Firemen and THW guys are standing in the river bed to rescue drowning tub captains (rarely necessary as the water is hardly more than knee-deep) and help stubborn tubs onto the right course (frequently necessary at the slides, and tough work).
The base of the vessel is a wooden oval tub. These are provided by the Bach-na-Fahrer guild. A couple of weeks in advance the teams are assigned theirs. 40 teams are admitted. Then the craftwork begins. Everyone has his or her own tricks to make the construction swim. They can only hope, testing the tubs in advance is impossible.
The teams are free to choose a topic; the only rule is: no obscenities. Some transport a political message or deal with local affairs, others refer to anniversaries or are just funny and entertaining. From banana split to Brandenburg Gate, from Oktoberfest to hospital beds, anything goes. Locomotives were particularly popular this year.
On the way to the start the decorated tubs parade through the town from around 10:30 onwards. They then assemble at the bus station at Neue Brücke, which serves as paddock. This is a great opportunity to admire them from close by - and still intact. After the run down the creek most of them won't look that good any more. From here the tubs are carried, or rather dragged and pushed, down to the river one by one to the start.
The event begins on Carnival Monday at 13:00. The canal is narrow and built-in between houses, so there are not enough good viewing points for the gathering crowds. If you want a good place, perhaps even on one of the bridges, start looking for one no later than 11:30 and occupy it. Yes this is early, but at 12:00 you will no longer have a chance for a place with a good view.
Spectators ought to know the three salutations that are shouted at the top of everyone’s voice. As usual, they consist of a call and an answer. The first is ubiquitous, the other two refer to the state of the passing tub team.
1. „Kanal - voll“ („Canal - full“) refers, of course, to the river and not to the state of captains or spectators. (In German, having the „canal full“ can also mean being very very drunk.)
2. „Furz - trocka“ („Fart - dry“). For tub captains who have so far avoided close contact with the Schiltach.
3. Batsch - nass“ („Dripping - wet“). Part of the fun, especially for the spectators. The photos show what that means...
On the day of the Bach-na-Fahre, the local jester guild are doing a parade in town afterwards. The parade begins at 15:00 on Carnival Monday, about 45 minutes after the end of the event on the river. Hardly enough time to grab a bite or a drink at some stall and find a good position in the main street. Apart from Schramberg's local guild (Narrenzunft), the participants are guilds from the villages in the wider surroundings of the town. As usual, beware of the witches... although, come to think of it, one witch provided me with a cup of hot mulled wine which was more than welcome!
Schramberg is located in the Swabian part of the Black Forest. The costumes worn by the local jesters resemble those of the traditional guilds further east towards the Neckar valley. The Narro with a stick full of Brezeln is related to the ones in Oberndorf. The white, painted Häs is worn in many places along the Neckar and in the eastern Black Forest, like Villingen, Rottweil and again Oberndorf.
Jester types are:
- the Narro in white painted Häs and a mask with devil's horns
- the Hansel who distributes pretzels to those who can say a verse
- the Bach-na-Fahrer
- the Brüele who is the Sad Clown, a crying jester
Two individual figures:
- the jester bailiff. This mask recalls the face of the last real bailiff in town, who had a little vegetable shop for some additional income and was nicknamed „Endivienbutz“ („endive bailiff“) in town.
- the Kehraus („Cleanup“) who carries a big broom and sweeps the winter away. This figure was created in the 1920s when the Fastnacht was believed to be an ancient pagan rite to drive winter away. Historical research proved this opinion wrong but the figure stayed.
The jester guild created a Häs for the Bach-na-Fahrer. A group of them, not necessarily the same people who actually ride the tubs down the Schiltach but also children among them, is part of any parade. The Häs recalls the clothing of the rafters on the creeks and rivers. It was designed already in 1939, three years after the first Bach-na-Fahrt. It consists of a blue work shirt, black pants and boots, a laughing mask and a long-haired wig under a black pointed cap. The first and the last tub on the Schiltach are undecorated and ridden by a guy in this Häs. For the parade, tub and captain are transported by a tractor. The walking Bach-na-Fahrer carry a bottomless wooden tub around their waist.
The verse in Swabian:
Dr Bach na, dr Bach na,
mit Kummer un mit Sorga,
bis am Asch-, bis am Asch-
Down the river, down the river,
with sorrow and with care,
until Ash, until Ash,
until Ash Wednesday morning!
I am cute and I know it!