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“Fasnacht” & the Tirol mask-carvers

In Tirol, the processions marking “Fasnacht” (the Shrovetide carnival) are such wild celebrations that these traditional events are only staged every 3, 4 or even 5 years.

One stunning example is the “Imster Schemenlaufen”, and it demands the dedication and passion of a whole city over many months. 900 men – and it is only the men, as elsewhere in Tirol too – are actively involved in the events. They hop, leap, dance, make loud noises and make music throughout the play, as it parades through the streets and gets under the skin. The figures are handed down over the ages, and are elaborately costumed: Shrovetide costumes, wigs, masks, gloves and hats leave barely any part of the skin uncovered. The Imster Schemenlauf is held only every 5 years, with the next one coming up in 2020.

Your gaze is invariably drawn to the masks – highly expressive artistic masterpieces, which are simply beautiful: the mature, striking masculinity of the “Scheller”, with his darker skin-tone, beard and bushy eyebrows, and the light, youthful playfulness of the “Roller” with feminine eyes, rosy cheeks and a smiling mouth are clearly differentiated from one another. Often characterised as the turning-point of the old winter and the young spring, these masked plays probably date back to the Baroque love of games and the masquerades performed by the church and the nobility, which have since been adopted by the regular citizens and farmers.

Nowhere are these traditions supported with such a passion as in the Tirol, regardless of whether it is the ‘Matschgerer’ figures between Innsbruck and Hall or the Schleicherlaufen in Telfs, the Blochziehen in Fiss, the Wampelerreiten in Axams or the Schellenlaufen in Nassereith. All have their own way of doing things, their own particular representation of a test of strength and their own wild celebration, accompanied by typical figures. But they all wear masks and outrageous costumes.

Viewed in that light, behind every mask there’s a woman. And not just because they customize the make-up and costumes to fit the men sporting them: in Nassereith, the masks are even carved by a woman. Irene Krismer is a seamstress by training, but her father encouraged her to carve souvenirs like geese and deer, showing her all the holds and each cut. And because her first piece was so successful, she really enjoyed her carving. Carving masks is something she taught herself later in life. Today, pieces by her hang in the Nassreith Fasnachtsmuseum, and are worn with pride for the Fasnacht celebrations.

Fasnacht in Austria

  • Fastnachtsumzug in Tirol © Tirol Werbung / Bernhard Aichner Fastnachtsumzug in Tirol © Tirol Werbung / Bernhard Aichner
  • Fastnachtsmasken © Tirol Werbung / Bernhard Aichner Fastnachtsmasken © Tirol Werbung / Bernhard Aichner
  • Farsang Ausseerland © Steiermark Tourismus Farsang Ausseerland © Steiermark Tourismus
  • Fastnachtsumzug in Tirol © Tirol Werbung / Bernhard Aichner Fastnachtsumzug in Tirol © Tirol Werbung / Bernhard Aichner
  • Schleicherlaufen 2015 in Telfs © P. Hartwich Schleicherlaufen 2015 in Telfs © P. Hartwich

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