Intangible Cultural Heritage in Austria

Perlaggen in Tyrol

Applicant: : Institut für "ALPENLÄNDISCHE TRADITIONSKARTENSPIELE -Watten, Bieten,Gilten und Perlaggen", Telfs - NOAFLHAUS, Hubert Auer (Vorstand), Telfs. Bernhard Moll, Imst und Peter Blaas, Mieming.
Province: Tyrol
Domain: Social Practices

Perlåggen is a card game that is nowadays played above all in Tyrol. Two teams, usually consisting of two individuals each, attempt to communicate via secret verbal and nonverbal signals and win as many points as possible in the process. The game is played with 33 German-suited cards (Acorns, leafs, bells, hearts), of which up to eight—depending on the region and the situation—are designated Perlågg and thus given a special function. Fibbing and fooling one’s opponents are important elements of this game, which also involves the lingo known as Perlågger-Latein or Kårter-Sprech. This contains a number of words for certain moves, for special cards, and of praise or rebuke for other players’ actions. Perlåggen is played by people of all ages, classes, and genders, and games take place particularly at inns and in private homes. Local tournaments are held every year, and the past few years have also seen an all-Tyrol Perlåggen championship held, the location of which alternates between South and North Tyrol.

The roots of Perlåggen can be traced back to the 19th century. One of the sources from which it developed was the Giltspiel card game. The first written mention of Perlåggen being played is from 1833. The term Perlåggen itself probably comes from the area around Salurn. There, Berlicche is the local name there for the Devil, who—just like the Perlåggen cards—can take on whatever form suits him. Depending on the place where a game is played, both the number of cards used and the rules can vary. In 1890, a meeting known as the Perlåggerkongress was held in Innsbruck in order to standardise the game’s rules—an endeavour which, to this day, has failed. But the community of players had now agreed that it is always those rules that are valid at the place where the game is being played that apply when players from different places meet.

The players are united in their being speakers of the Tyrolean dialect, which—with its special Perlåggen terminology—is of great importance. Particularly expressions for things like special playing cards, moves, praise, rebukes, and opposing players’ presumed positions are referred to as Kårter-Sprech [Card Player-speak] or Perlågger-Latein [Perlåggen Players’ Latin]. The game is played mainly in groups of four individuals, with the members of each two-person team sitting diagonally across from each another. The process of bidding therefore requires some acting talent, including the ability to deceive and bluff. Communication within the teams takes place in the most secretive possible manner, both verbally and non-verbally—for the most part via traditional signals using the fingers, inconspicuous shrugs of the shoulders, and secret motions of the eyes and mouth. A primary reason for this game’s popularity is the Plodern that takes place—the talking and interpretation, fibbing and deceiving done either to inform one’s partner or mislead an opponent. All these diverse forms of communication, in their interaction with playing strategy and psychology, give the players a feeling of identity.

While Perlåggen used to be played mainly by members of the upper-class, today’s players can be found across all segments of the populace—and the communities of Kematen, Imst, and Tarrenz even play host to their own annual championships in addition to the all-Tyrol event. The ones in Imst and Tarrenz are called Perlåggerball [Perlåggen Players’ Ball], although these days, they no longer bear any resemblance to a ball. The winner in Tarrenz is known as the Perlåggerkaiser [Perlåggen Emperor], while the winner in Imst merely becomes a Perlåggerkönig [Perlåggen King]—albeit with the insignia of crown, sceptre, and purple robe.