Traditions of the Tirol

The Austrians really know how to make Christmas beautiful. Humongous evergreen trees are dotted about the city, decorated in warm glowing ambers, like the rest of the city. No garish colours whatsoever, like the British would tend to go for. The Christmas market never ends, selling everything from gingerbread to pony rides. On every corner one can buy Glühwein (i.e. mulled wine), in all kinds and varieties, in cute little Innsbruck mugs offered in more colours than the rainbow. I have yet to buy any stollen, for fear of inevitably drowning in an abyss of delightful marzipan addiction.

The weather has still been rather pathetic, occasionally the mountain tops get blanketed with a thick white mass which creeps ever so slowly down the mountainside but never quite reaches us in the valley. The cloud clears to reveal beautiful snowcapped peaks, which only last a matter of days until the temperature rises again. The Austrians are feeling rather dismayed that they cannot go skiing yet.

When I haven’t been studying I’ve been going to the cinema, or enjoying a coffee in Die Bäckerei (The Bakery) and writing postcards. This is my favourite place in the city, a community space which puts on gigs, yoga, meditation, bike mending workshops, poetry slams, literally anything that you can think of. Every city should have a place like this. I even saw a band from Huddersfield perform there. The nightlife isn’t as great as people say it is, I miss cheesy clubs which play 90s tunes! But there are lots of fantastically quirky live bands instead which makes up for it.

I also managed to escape one day to go to the Achensee, a scenic lake which almost reaches Germany. I decided that I would go swimming and the only other person who had the guts to join me was a girl from Ukraine. It was very cold, but that didn’t stop us from going in three times on a cold November day! We hiked around afterwards to warm up, and enjoyed the stark contrasts of the golden hues against the shadows upon the mountains as the sun set.

So far, there have been two main events in the Tirolean calendar: Törggelen and Krampusnacht. The former is an event which involves copious amounts of home-grown wine and equal measures of food and chestnuts. The Astro department all got onto a coach and drove south, to Südtirol (technically Italy). My first time in Italy and unfortunately it was completely dark. But I suppose that wasn’t the purpose of our visit: we ate, and we ate, and we ate some more. I opted for the vegetarian dishes, delicious Knödel for starters, and a block of cheese for the main! Luckily there were also some potatoes, sauerkraut and beef to steal from the meat eaters. Utterly moreish desert; deep fried batter stuffed with jam and dusted with icing sugar. Meanwhile, we drank, and we drank, and we drank some more. Then we clambered back onto the bus and made our way home.

Krampusnacht occurs on the 5th of December, the eve of Saint Nicholas’ Day. Krampus is a beast/devil/demon creature adorned with horns and cow bells, existing to frighten children who have been bad, whipping them with branches and covering them in black soot/paint/tar/I-have-no-idea-what. Krampus is terrifying. And for some reason we thought it would be a good idea to go back to Südtirol to experience the whole thing properly. We went to a picturesque, quaint little town called Sterzing, this time before it got dark. The first time we saw a Krampus, we heard the children screaming first. A mass of little people came running at us, away from the Krampusse who were chasing them. Inevitably we started screaming and running too, unable to stop our hearts from being pumped with adrenaline! We soon found our way to the town centre, cobbled streets galore. And the same warm glowing amber lights adorned on every tree and every surface. One’s eye can’t fail to notice a great big tower, known as the Zwölferturm, which divides the old from the new. Whilst waiting for the evening’s entertainment to begin, we wondered about the Christmas market, drinking Glühwein and eating doughnuts. The atmosphere kept building as Krampusse kept appearing and attacking people who had let their guard down for only a moment. At one point they all turned up in a Krampusmobile, horns squawking! It is indeed great fun to feel like a child again; exhilarating to suddenly be attacked by a demon who plasters black grime all over your face when you weren’t looking. It happened to me. I got Krampused. I screamed like an annoying teenage girl, but it was worth every moment.

Eventually people started gathering on the main path, near the tower. We waited for what felt like forever, as people kept channeling through in both directions, leaving us with no clue as to where we were supposed to be. Occasionally we caught glimpses of a Krampus in the window of the tower, and the tension grew and grew. Suddenly the Krampus climbed out of the window, donning a pair of great big black wings. Surely he wasn’t going to climb down the tower? He was facing the wrong direction to abseil! Well, that obviously doesn’t matter for Krampusse, for he started walking down the tower, forwards. Meanwhile flares were going off in the distance behind us, and we were getting more and more crammed together. Some people had managed to escape the wrath of the black paint, but most had not. Something was coming towards us, slowly down the street, lighting up the surrounding buildings in a dark, bloody red. There would be no barriers between us, and whatever was coming. Fireworks were being set off from the window of the tower as Krampus continued to walk down perpendicularly. Health and safety definitely does not exist in this part of the world. More Krampusse appeared, pushing us back to make way, beating people with sticks and yelling in their faces. There were also little kids dressed up as Krampusse, equally formidable. Out of the blue Father Christmas appeared, handing out sweets, and a guy with a donkey. Then “it” was here! Lots and lots of Krampusmobiles. Some had trees attached onto them, decorated in red. Another had a Krampus stood hitting an anvil with a hammer. There were fires blazing on most of the rusty vehicles, but scariest of all was a great big cage filled with women and children, crying and screaming and being rocked from side to side by a Krampus. At one point the cage had gained enough momentum that it stopped in midair and we thought that it was going to fall on top of us!

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