This was the final weekend of the Six Nations Rugby Tournament. The last three games were played back to back on Saturday so Nikki and I went to Murphy's Law Irish Pub to watch the first game with some friends, all of whom belong to the same expat group. After the first match we all hopped the train to watch the second and third matches at another pub in Heidelberg. I only just started watching rugby a few weeks ago but I've discovered that I really like it. The final game on Saturday was between Ireland and Wales to determine the league champions. Ireland won by a hair. It was a very exciting match.
Saturday night was also what is called Long Night at the Museum. The museums in Heidelberg, Mannheim and Ludwigshafen were all open until about 2am with special exhibits and pricing. It's quite festive and very popular. So after the rugby match about seven of us headed off to see the Body Worlds exhibition. I missed it in Phoenix and again in Pittsburgh so I'm glad I finally got to see it in Heidelberg. It was pretty cool. From there we took the train back to Mannheim to see an exhibition on the 1914 Shackleton expedition to Antarctica. By the time we emerged it was 12:30. The festivities were still in full swing and there was a lot more we could have seen but at this point we decided to call it a night. Bert was on a weekend hiking trip with a couple of friends so Nikki decided to sleep at my place. We tumbled into bed about 1:30 am.
On Sunday we met up with Clemens, Linda and Chrissie in a little town called Forst for a very unique celebration of Spring. Here is the official description:
The village of Forst, well-known for its excellent wineries, is located on the German Wine Route on the slopes of the Haardt. On every Mid-Lent Sunday, this beautiful setting is used for the “Hanselfingerhut Spiel”, a special summer play to cheerfully drive out the winter.
The play has been performed since more than 200 years as historical documents mention it as early as 1721. Originating from immigrants from Switzerland and Upper Germany, the dramatic play has mixed with the local rituals to drive out the winter. The most lively and famous of the plays is performed in the wine village of Forst. Although the play looks far from extravagant to the outsider, it is still profound. In a literal sense, it truly is a people’s play that is spiced up with humor and originality. The play is based on the old Germanic idea of summer battling the winter.
The play is divided into four scenes and features six roles. The village road serves as the stage on which the play takes place. The first scene shows the fight between summer and winter for which purpose both actors are in small conical houses made from slats and poles. While the house of the winter is clothed in straw and crowned with a straw cross, the house of the Summer is covered with ivy and decorated with a little blue-and-white flags. Both houses have a peephole at head height so that the ‘warriors’ inside the houses are able to fight properly with their wooden sabers. After both warriors have carried their small houses down the village road and presented their respective advantages, the fight eventually starts and summer emerges as the winner.
In the second scene, the Henrich-Fähnrich appears, who resembles an officer cadet of the former landsknechts and who has the judicial authority. Henrich-Fähnrich decides on who has won the fight between summer and winter.
The main character of the summer play, the Hanselfingerhut, enters in the third scene. With ragged clothes and a sooty, oily face, he is holding a bale of soot in his hand. His look is meant to represent a vagabond who has squandered everything he owned. Nevertheless, he always feels like playing merry tricks on people and teasing young, beautiful girls. While he sings his small piece, he walks back and forth within the 5m distance between the two houses of Winter and Summer. At the end of his piece, he tries to catch one of the girls in the crowd, to press his black brand on her face with a kiss.
In the fourth scene, the Hanselfingerhut, who has become very weary in the meantime, is shaved by the barber and given inner relief by bloodletting from the toe. However, as the treatment is too strong, the Hanselfingerhut faints. While all the other characters surround him and lament, he eventually wakes up again after the Henrich-Fähnrich tickles his ribs with his saber. Nudelgret comes running and revives him with fresh pretzels.
So what happens is that these two guys, one wearing a winter cone (kind of like a portable teepee) and the other wearing a summer cone take turns taunting each other for about 5 minutes and eventually poke out their little wooden swords from their peepholes and fight. The 'judge' decides the winner (always summer). Then the Hanselfingerhut shows up ( he's the guy in the above photo who is dressed in rags and covered in black oily paint) for his part in the play which takes place in the street between the two 'Seasons'.
When the play is finished the entire production, including the crowd of onlookers, proceeds down the street and the play is performed all over again. They do this about four times. Part of the fun, though, is that 'Nudelgret', who is supposed to be a pretty girl, is a man dressed in silly 'pretty maid' clothes complete with bloomers, comical face makeup and braids. She sells her pretzels to people in the crowd when she's not performing. The Hanselfingerhut is also very busy in between his performances. He spends his 'off-stage' time running around kissing all the women. So by the end of the festivities all of the women and girls in the crowd have big black kiss marks on their cheeks.
The afternoon culminates with food and drink and the setting on fire and burning of another conical representation of winter in the town square. It's all great fun and, as Nikki pointed out, very pagen. A fabulous way to bid farewell to Winter and welcome the return of Spring!