Wolfach’s Fastnacht involves an open-air theatre performance. The so-called Festspiel takes place right after the parade in the afternoon of Carnival Monday. It is free and open-air. The stage is set up in the main street in front of the town hall. Many groups that took part in the parade appear in the play.
The tradition of such plays on Fastnacht was popular in the 18th and 19th century. It has disappeared from most places. Wolfach is the only place I know of that keeps it up. They have a handful of plays that are repeated every couple of years.
The show I got to see was a historical play about the construction of the new town wall 500 years ago. Unfortunately the wall has no gate, due to the Mayor's skintness. This causes quite some troubles. The wall is in everyone's way, the inhabitants cannot leave the town and no one can enter. And it is in the way of romance, too. The Mayor's daughter Hilda loves Wenzel the young miner but her father has other plans...
So here is the story!
It is a sunny day in Wolfach in the year 1511. Daily life is in full swing. The busy (busy!) washerwomen are doing their laundry on the river bank. Rafters pass on Kinzig river. A group of mendicant monks arrives but isn't met with much enthusiasm.
Everyone admires the newly built town wall along the river bank. There is only one tiny problem... the wall has no gate, so no one can enter or leave the town to reach the bridge across the river.
This is the heroine of the play: Friedhilda, the pretty daughter of Friedrich the Mayor. Near and far she is known as Beautiful Hilda.
Hilda loves Wenzel, the young miner, and Wenzel loves her. But they can only meet clandestinely because her father has other plans and wants a better match for his only daughter.
The clock strikes midnight. Ghosts dance on the town wall.
Hilda and Wenzel are having a secret appointment by the river.
But they cannot get together because there is the new wall in their way.
Hilda wants Wenzel to climb up but they cannot find a solution how. Nothing works, the rope is too short and
there is no ladder to be found. Very funny duet on the melody of „There's A Hole In The Bucket, Oh Henry, Oh Henry...“
The next day sees the inauguration of the new town wall. The Mayor has planned a festive ceremony. A squad of lansquenets - they call themselves the Thirsty Squad - march in to stand guard.
Everyone is there except the citizens of the town: they cannot attend the ceremony on the river bank because they are behind the wall and there is no gate.
Who is responsible for this mistake? The embarrassed Mayor has to admit that he himself decided to omit the gate to save money!
What to do? Let's paint a gate onto the wall, and solve the problem later.
The ceremony begins.
The mayor makes a speech and takes the chance to announce the engagement of his daughter Hilda with...
... Count Konrad of Fürstenberg, the lord of Wolfach castle.
Even more so as the Count is not exactly a spring chicken any more, a notorious good-for-nothing, deep in debt and accompanied by a whole bunch of what would be called „society ladies“ nowadays - women that definitely aren't ladies.
And poor Wenzel.
But Wenzel has supporters. The miners show up to help him and free Hilda, and with them Wenzel's mother, Ulla von der Halden, the rich owner of the ore mine.
A very noisy fight breaks out between the miners and the lansquenets.
The Thirsty Squad end the fight quickly, though, as soon as the clock strikes twelve: Lunch break!
Energetic and resolute Ulla von der Halden - impersonated by a big strong guy - interferes on behalf of her son. She tells the Mayor a couple of unpleasant truths about the Count, who prefers to disappear.
For example, that the Count has donated the stones for the town wall but the stones are from her quarry and the 'donator' has never paid for them.
The embarrassed Mayor does not know what to do.
The miners check the town wall to find out how to make a gate but without success.
Hilda declares her eternal love to Wenzel in a heart-rending song.
The song ends in a high-pitched note that makes the stones crumble from the wall and creates a gate.
The Mayor's biggest problem is solved. He grants his daughter a wish.
Hilda says, of course, „Father, let me marry Wenzel.“
Much hmmm and hah and having Ulla von der Halden in the family... but her father finally says yes.
Ulla gives the stones of the wall to her son as dowry.
Happy end! *Sniff*
Wolfach’s Colourful and Busy Fastnacht
Wolfach is one of the busiest places in the Alemannic Fastnacht: In the run of eight days they have twelve parades in their little town, and they still find time to join parades in neighbouring towns.
On Carnival Monday in the wee hours of the morning, at 5:30 a.m. to be exact, the town is awakened by the Wohlauf song. In fact, everyone is already awake because they are all out in the street, but anyway... The Wohlauf singer is rolled along in a huge bed and accompanied by hundreds of jesters in white nightshirts. Every now and then they stop, everyone goes quiet, and the Wohlauf rises from the bed to sing his song. The yellow and blue Schellenhansel and the white Mehlwurmhansel has a picture of the Wohlauf singer on the front of his jacket.
I have not yet seen it myself but friends who have assured me that it is goosebumping. No light is permitted in the street except the jesters' lanterns and everyone has to wear white. So, lookers-on, if you are in civilian dress, hide in a corner.
The biggest parade, though, is the one of Monday afternoon, starting at 14:00. The jesters assemble outside the castle gate and then parade along the main street to the bridge and along the other river bank to the jester fountain. The Free Jester Guild of Wolfach leads the parade. First there is the Gullerreiter (cock rider), then the Hansel in their colourful costumes. The Walnusshansel, covered in walnut shells, form an extra group, also the Rungunkeln with the old wives mill. Right after the parade the Festspiel is performed on the open-air stage in front of the town hall. Another reason to come on Monday. All the groups that participate in the Festspiel also take part in the parade. Then there are other jester guilds from the surrounding villages and towns, some Gugge bands even from Switzerland, groups and clubs from the village.
Wolfach does not attract as huge crowds as the more famous destinations, which is pleasant. The streets are lively but the number of spectators is bearable and you'll easily find a spot with good visibility.
Gullerreiter, the Cock Rider, marches at the beginning of the parade.
The colourful crowd involves five different Hansel figures.
Streifenhansel is, as the name indicates, striped.
The blue and yellow Schellenhansel have little bells all ofer their suit and headcover.
Mehlwurmhansel - white as a flour worm
Röslehansel has a rose painted on the forehead.
A Spättlehansel with a Häs made of colourful pieces of fabric.
Walnusshansel‘s' Häs is covered in walnut shells from head to toe. They march as a separate group.
Having an Altweibermühle is all older men's dream, right? A mill they can put their old women through and turn them into young girls.
The cart with the mill is taken along during parades by the Rungunkeln, as the witches in Wolfach name themselves. Never call them Hexen. A witch is stuffed into the opening at the top (or pretended to do so). From the slide in the back, young girls emerge. (The girls are caught from the crowd, taken into the cart and sent down the slide.)
On Tuesday at dusk in the afternoon the „Nose Parade“ marches through the town. The participants wear fancy wooden noses, and their jackets inside out. They make noise on all kinds of instruments. Only men are allowed to participate – any female intruder can expect to be thrown into the fountain regardless of weather and temperature.
Ash Wednesday is the day of grief. Wolfach‘s men dress up as for a funeral, wash their purses at the fountain and then march to the - tax authority office presenting their empty purses and shedding a lot of tears.