Fasnacht 2009 in Winterthur – Opening Ceremonies

This weekend we went to several activities in the Altstadt (old town) for the festival of Fasnacht (click on the link or see my previous blog for a more complete explination). It was wild and fun! If we are still lucky enough to live in Switzerland next year, we’ll definitely have to get dressed up ourselves.

On Friday night we met up with one of our other expat friends and her daughter (who is nearly the same age as our son), and went to the Narrenbaum Stellen – basically opening ceremonies. In Winterthur, a lot of the festival activities are based on music played by local marching bands. And the bands are excellent! All night we heard what seemed to be a few traditional Swiss favorites mixed in with a lot of rock songs from the US and UK. It was really neat. The babies loved the live music, and we were all getting a kick out of the utterly wild costumes.

When we first arrived, we met up with our friend Jo and wandered the Altstadt together until we stumbled upon a bizzare tradition – a large group of students (male) shaving next to one of the many fountains that you find int he Altstadt. They’d also covered the statue for this fountain (a nude woman) in shaving foam. I don’t think it is exactly related to Fasnacht, but according to what Jo could discern from one of the onlookers, the boys shave and then grow huge chops for the next few months and then have a big party. I remember a few months ago seeing a bunch of young men getting on the bus with thick sideburns wearing stove-pipe hats (just like Abraham Lincoln) and rather old-fashioned tuxes and suits. I guess this goes on more than once a year.

A few metres away from the fountain was a long line of more young guys – probably about 30 or so – all facing one direction, standing shoulder-to-shoulder, with shaving items at their feet, and a beer in hand. After some sort of speech and a cheer, the guys all chugged their beers, and started shaving. It was hilarious. Again, it probably really had little to do with Fasnacht.

Soon a few costumed folks started to wander by, some with fantastic carved wooden masks. A band started to play and luckily the babies both seemed to love the loud music and weren’t startled by it much. We sort of followed the first band we found through the Altstadt and ended up at one of the main open plazas next to a stage. All the bands marched into the plaza from all different directions, each taking turns to play songs.

We had a great spot to see all of the activities. First, a group of frogs (well, people wearing cool huge frog masks) carried a tent-thingy (I can’t think of the word for it right now) into the square and up onto the stage. Underneath it was a small group of people in various costumes, who were probably the masters of the ceremonies and city leaders. Next to them were a few folks wearing huge lion masks, complete with manes. The official mascot of the city of Winterthur is a lion. Each of the bands started to crowd in, and they were all wearing different costumes.

Plus, there were onlookers wearing all kinds of odd costumes. Sometimes the costumes were recognizable (such as a couple who were wearing old-fashioned prison uniforms), and some were just bizarre mixes of cloaks and masks and face paint and hair color. It was a lot of fun.

Jo bought us commemorative pins of the festival when a gal wandered by selling them. It reminded me a bit of the pins that I have received from one of Heath’s work colleagues who gets us excellent tickets for the Houston BBQ cook-off and Rodeo every year (got a little teary-eyed at that thought).

By the time the ceremonies started, it was very dark, and while I have a flash, it isn’t powerful enough to light up a huge crowd, so a lot of my pictures came out really dark, or really blurry (when I tried to use a different setting). After the bands all played, a huge sanded crooked tree trunk was carried in by a number of men dressed in black costumes with loads of shaggy fur and bells hanging off them. On the top of the post were a dozen plaques noting each of the participating groups, and topped with signs representing the city of Winterthur. The post was raised up into a standing position with lots of cheering, and then more music was played as the folks on the stage processed out.

After the ceremony was over, we grabbed some pizzas from Heath’s favorite restaurant in the Altstadt, and Jo and her husband (who missed the ceremony because of travelling home from a business trip) followed us back to our apartment where we put the babies down to sleep, and us adults chatted over beer and pizza and chips for a few hours. We had a fun time.

And that’s all I have time for at the moment. I’ll report back on the big parade later this week. To see many more pictures of the Narrenbaum Stellen, click here.

Time to get the baby up from his nap and go meet Jo in the Aldstat to check out what the farmers and vendors have brought in for the Tuesday morning market. I love our town! 🙂


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