Pfalz residents ‘burn winter,’ welcome spring

Petra Lessoing
Kaiserslautern American

***image1***People in the Pfalz region celebrate the end of winter in different ways. A few weeks before Easter, it is customary to “burn winter,” have summer day parades and perform summer day plays.

To “burn winter” means to put up piles of wood and straw, light them and wait for them to burn down. The tradition goes back to Pagan times, when fires were lit to banish ghosts and demons so spring was able to come.

In Katzweiler, winter will be “burnt” at 6 p.m. Saturday on Bonanza Ranch.
In Neuleiningen (near Wattenheim, A6) a parade starts going at 2 p.m. Sunday and ends with the burning of winter.

In Forst along the German Wine Street, a very popular fest to say goodbye to winter is celebrated Sunday. Forst residents perform a play called “Hanselfingerhut Fest.” The first performance is at 2 p.m. near the northern exit of the village and the last performance is at 3:30 p.m. in front of Felix-Christoph-Traberger-Halle.

Historical documentation of the play dates back to 1721. The dramatic play immigrates from Southern Germany and Switzerland. It has a deep meaning but it is spiced with humor and originality. The story is based on the old Teutonic idea of a fight between summer and winter.

The play consists of four scenes and six characters with the village streets as stage. The first scene shows the fight between winter and summer. Both performers are placed in little cone-shaped houses made of laths and sticks.

***image2***The winter house is covered with straw and has a straw cross on top; the summer house is covered with ivy and decorated with a blue and white flag on its top. Both houses have a little hole to look through. The two competitors are armed with sabers made of wood and walk down the street with the house over their head. They talk about their good qualities before they finally start fighting. Summer wins.

In the second scene, an officer cadet (ensign), who looks like a mercenary in former times, judicially resolves the fight between winter and summer.

In the third scene, the main character of the play, “Hanselfingerhut,” appears. His dress is shabby and his face is smeared with oil and soot. He represents a tramp who lost all his belongings, but still is in the mood for playing tricks on others and teasing young and good-looking girls. While singing he swings between the summer and the winter house, which are about five meters away from each other. He finally is looking for a girl from the audience to press a black brand (kiss) into her face.

The fourth and final scene demonstrates how Hanselfingerhut is exhausted and how the barber tries to cure him with a bloodletting on his toe. But he faints and the officer cadet tickles him with his sword. Hanselfingerhut wakes up again and eats fresh pretzels to recover. All performers keep walking through the streets and re-perform the play twice before the burning of winter on the Festplatz.

The fest actually starts in the morning after worship service. Children receive special brötchen. This tradition dates back to 1600 when the emperor’s court reader, Felix Christoph Traberger, made a donation. In a certificate from Sept. 8, 1600, Traberger mentions the good neighborly intents of the mayor and the whole community, which made him donate 40 guilders (former currency) with a two-guilder interest.

The court reader decided that each year on mid-Lent Sunday, brötchen for two guilders must be bought and given to local children. To thank the donor, a prayer must be said for him.

Forst is a little village with about 700 residents located between Bad Dürkheim and Deidesheim. It has many vineyards and is well known for its wine. The village is dominated by typical framework houses and sandstone buildings covered with ivy and vines. The main street, paved with stones, is part of the German Wine Street.