Intangible Cultural Heritage in Austria

"Wampelerreiten" in Axams

Applicant: Daniel Klotz
Province: Tyrol
Domain: Social Practices

Wampelerreiten is a fixture of Fasching [Carnival] festivities in Axams and is held annually on the so-called “Nonsense Thursday” prior to Fasching Sunday. In focus here are the Wampeler from whom this tradition takes its name—young boys and men who wear voluminous white linen shirts stuffed full of hay. This gives the Wampeler their “Wampe”, a colloquial German term for a fat belly. Equipped with short red skirts worn over their pants, wide leather belts, and short wooden staffs, the Wampeler parade through the community in a bent-over posture. Their adversaries are the Reiter [Riders], who attempt to knock the Wampeler down and flip them onto their backs in order to dirty their white shirts. The sticks carried by the Wampeler help them to keep their balance and defend themselves from unfair frontal attacks. In the evening, after several rounds through the village, the best Wampeler (the one with the cleanest back) is determined at the village tavern. Axams’s Wampelerreiten event itself is accompanied by so-called Banden [gangs], who spend their fourth of four consecutive Thursday evenings moving from tavern to tavern costumed as traditional carnival figures and making music, dancing, and satirising local circumstances during their visits.

Little is known about the origins of Axams’ Wampelerreiten tradition. One can likewise only speculate as to its purpose and/or meaning. Some interpretations of this practice hold that it symbolises things such as driving out the winter or conquering nature. The earliest written mentions of Wampelerreiten date from the mid-19th century. More recent interpretations of this battle make it out to be a rite of passage through which young boys, by participating, are admitted to the ranks of men.
The battle between the Wampeler and the Reiter takes place according to established rules. When attacking, members of the Reiter faction may only approach their adversaries from behind. So if a Wampeler has his back to a building, a wall, a fence, or a well, he may not be attacked. But the opponents do always eventually join in battle—at the latest when they arrive at the event’s specially demarcated “battle zones”. The winner is the Wampeler who succeeds in keeping his white shirt the cleanest.
Every four years, there is also a large parade that features Tuxer, Flitscheler, Boarischer, Bojazzl, and other figures typical of the region and of Tyrolean Carnival processions. A unique figure, though, is the Axamer Bock [Axams Billy Goat]—a real, live animal. This billy goat is led by the so-called Goaßer [Goatherd], who recites selected curious event from the village’s recent history. The Bluatigen [Bloody Ones] are likewise unique figures, and they represent a subversive element of Axams’s Carnival festivities. These young boys dressed in bathing suits, their bodies smeared with animal blood and behung with animal intestines, run through the village hollering in order to startle the onlookers, participants, and organisers. The Bluatigen are not organisationally involved in the Carnival festivities, and they make their appearances at irregular and unpredictable intervals.