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Celebrating Fässlistemmer with the Gufi Locals

Gufi, known by locals as the affectionate nickname for the town of Gundelfingen, is situated just outside the city limits of Freiburg, Germany. Jason and I live in a small studio apartment overlooking parts of the quaint town. Gufi is close enough to the city that we can be downtown in 20 minutes, but far enough away that we don't have to deal with the hustle and bustle when we come home in the evenings. I'll be posting a separate blog post all about Gundelfingen and our apartment, so stay tuned!

This entry focuses solely on the magical Fässlistemmer festival we stumbled upon recently. We were out for an evening stroll through town when we noticed hordes of people coming from several directions all heading up a path, seemingly into the woods. So of course we followed along.

Where are we going?

After walking through a wooded trail we were treated to what seemed like another Christmas market, complete with glüwein - hot mulled wine and a German staple. While we waited in line for yet another bratwürst we noticed there were two large piles of Christmas trees out in the field. Children laughed and stumbled about as they climbed through one of the piles, emerging with sticky hands and faces covered in sap. There were little bonfires all along the edge of the market stand for stockbrot, literally translated to stick bread.

People grabbed a stick and got in line for the tasty snack.

They wrapped our stick in bread dough and we were on our way. Judging by the amount of kids around the little bonfires this snack was likely meant for the children, but I have no shame when it comes to carbs.

See that? No shame.

As dusk began to settle in the crowd began to converge around the massive heap of trees. As we stood shoulder to shoulder with what seemed like the entire town of Gundelfingen, we waited with baited breath for what was sure to be a spectacle. As the last bits of sunlight left the night sky the wooded path became alive with the sounds of bells, cackles and low growls. And then we saw them emerge...

Masked creatures handing their torches off to the local fire department

Masked witches and wolves poured from the path into the field and began to gather around the larger pile of trees. Once their torches were handed to the local fire department, the witches began to chant, growing louder and louder until an eerie chorus surrounded us. Suddenly, one of the masked wolves let out a loud howl and the torches were tossed to the trees, the witches kneeling to the ground in anticipation.

The flames devoured the dry trees and soon the whole pile was engulfed, setting off celebrations with renewed zeal. The witches and wolves danced around the flames, running into the crowd to spook the onlookers.

We left the festivities full of laughter and good snacks, still unsure what exactly we just witnessed. We were glad we went for a walk and even happier we decided to follow the crowds of people.

What did we just participate in?

As it turns out, the ceremony we participated is just one part of a larger festival that takes place from November - February throughout parts of Germany. Each region and town celebrates Fässlistemmer in their own unique way.

The town of Gundelfingen has been celebrating Fässlistemmer since 1966. You can see photos of some of the first celebrations in a booklet created for the festival's 40th anniversary in 2006. From the booklet I learned that the festival typically begins on November 11 with the resurrection of Ignaz-fasnet by singing the words "Ignaz-fasnet wach doch uf" meaning "wake up Ignaz-fastnet." Our German friend Konstantin told us that the tree burning is meant to ward off winter and the bad spirits that come with it - hence the witches and wolves!

As the festival nears a close next month, the town will be hosting a free dance (including free snacks!) with a live band and DJ - stay tuned for photos!

Have you ever participated in a unique tradition while traveling in a new country? Let me know about it in the comments!

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