Intangible Cultural Heritage in Austria

Carnival in the Ausseerland region

Applicant: Bernhard Laimer, Maschkera-Gesellschaft
Province: Styria
Domain: Social Practices

Fasching [Carnival] in the Ausseerland region takes place from Fasching Sunday to Fasching Tuesday. Three main figures play significant roles in these festivities: Trommelweiber [Drumwives], Flinserl [Glitterers], and Pless (representing winter). The Trommelweiber, a manifestation of the gender role swaps common in Fasching festivities, accompany the Fasching procession—led by the Obertrommelweib and the rhythmic drumbeats of the Trommelweiber brass band. Flinserl and Pless appear on Fasching Tuesday. The sparkling Flinserl, with their magnificent costumes, join with the accompanying figures of the Zacherl to represent a specific regional Fasching formation, the historical origins of which have yet to be determined—although it is thought that they may be influenced by Venetian Carnival traditions. There are also masked figures (Maschkera) who proceed from tavern to tavern in small and large groups. Furthermore, all three days feature so-called “Fasching protocols” that are read aloud in various establishments that serve food and drink—with blunders, local politics, and local events from the old year satirised in rhymed and sung form and hand-drawn pictures to support these performances. Such Fasching protocols are presented by singers from the various villages in the Ausseerland region.

The first written mention of Fasching festivities in Aussee is from 1524. For Aussee’s Fasching traditions, an important developmental impulse was the salt industry. The trade in salt allowed a middle class to develop, while there were also labourers who worked in salt mining and processing. And once a year, Fasching gave both groups the opportunity to tell the authorities what they thought.
The tradition, radiating outward from Bad Aussee, also spread to the surrounding communities of Altaussee, Grundlsee, Pichl-Kainisch, and Knoppen. With the exception of the “Maschkera-Gesellschaft” group, there are no formal associations behind the Fasching festivities in Aussee; instead, there are informal circles of people, some of whom have been participating in the “Holy Three Days of Fasching” for over 200 years.
The Flinserl, Trommelweiber, and Pless have been in existence since the 18th century. The Trommelweiber were originally middle-class men who, dressed in women’s nightshirts and headed by the Obertrommelweib and a brass band known as the Trommelweiber Blechmusik, accompanied the Fasching procession with their rhythmic drumbeats. Pless are young men in padded clothing with beehives on their heads. They represent the winter, and boys throw snowballs at them to drive them away. The so-called Schmutzlappen [Dirty Rags], which are fastened to poles, serve the Pless as defensive weapons. The Flinserl-figures appear in pairs and, harking back to commedia dell’arte, they wear linen pants, skirts, and jackets that are embroidered all over with hundreds of silver sequins. On their heads are pointed hats, and their embroidered bags contain nuts that they toss to those children able to recite traditional sayings. The Flinserl are accompanied by the Zacherl, who wear less elaborate costumes. The Zacherl carry pig bladders fastened to poles, with which they clear a path through the onlookers for the procession of Flinserl. The Flinserl are preceded by a group known as the Fischer [Fisherfolk]. Their rods and lines have sweets and pickled herrings attached to them, for which children may “fish” with their mouths. Over the past few decades, other groups have formed alongside the Pless, the Flinserl, and the Trommelweiber. The Arbeiterflinserl [Workers’ Flinserl] have existed since 2006; they wear blue working clothes embroidered with hundreds of beer bottle caps. This group joins together with a brass band to go from tavern to tavern on Fasching Saturday and distribute sweets. The group Altausseer Knopferl [Altaussee Buttons] was founded by women in 2000. They wear costumes with buttons sewn on all over, wooden masks, and hats complete with Gamsbart [tufts of chamois hair]. The Knoppener and the Obersdorfer Fleckerl probably have the same origins as the Flinserl. But unlike the Flinserl, they go from house to house and hand out nuts and sweets to children. There are also a number of other groups particular to specific villages.