Between Epiphany and Shrove Tuesday, wild men bearing strange names move through Mittenwald, their faces hidden behind beautifully crafted masks. Some of the masks were carved by young woodcarver Anton Ostler
Mask carver Anton Ostler
Maschkera is a traditional carnival event in the Werdenfelser Land region. In Mittenwald, visitors can enjoy an authentic version of this ancient spectacle. The Maschkera meet on Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays between Epiphany and Shrove Tuesday for “Gungln” – singing and dancing in the taverns. On “Unsinniger Donnerstag” (Foolish Thursday) there is a big procession.
Traditional carnival custom
Round cheeks, a smooth complexion and a moustache with not a hair out of place – the traditional carnival masks from Mittenwald are extremely refined. They are skilfully made from the best wood and are therefore also known as “violin-maker masks”. But first impressions can be deceptive. Behind the masks lurk wild fellows: the Maschkera. One of them is art student and wood carver Anton “Toni” Ostler.
He himself carved some of the masks that are worn for the Maschkera in Mittenwald. “As a child I found some carving chisels and started to carve things in the shed. Since I didn’t have an expensive mask, I began to carve my own.” And it went on from there: the trained wood carver and art student is now so skilful that he is planning to make a living from his passion.
Maschkera – the word applies both to the carnival custom and the masks, and even to the mask wearers themselves. From Epiphany to Shrove Tuesday, the men of the Werdenfelser Land region meet to perform their Maschkera, always on Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays. There are only three exceptions: Candlemas, St. Blasius’ Day and the anniversary of the day in 1830 when the whole lower market of Mittenwald burnt down.
"Since I didn’t have an expensive mask, I began to carve my own"
Put on your masks
The foolish goings on start after the call to evening prayer at eight o’clock. The Maschkera put on their costumes and masks and meet in a tavern for “Gungl” – usually a spontaneous activity. There they sing, dance and fool around, or perform small sketches. Sometimes they parody political failures or misconduct in the local community. Performing the Maschkera has always been a spontaneous gathering. Society members or guards? It’s impossible to say – with the exception of a small organising committee for the Thursday parade.
An ancient spectacle
The high point of the wild spectacle is “Unsinniger Donnerstag”, otherwise known as “Weiberfasnacht”. Hardly has the last chime of the midday bell sounded, when twelve figures in traditional mountain costumes swarm down through the market: the so-called “Schellenrührer”. On their backs they carry large bells while their faces are hidden behind skilfully carved wooden masks.
Their presence heralds the arrival a whole series of curious and ancient figures with traditional names: Jacklschutzer, Geröllratscher, Pfoadara and Untersberger Mannlan. “Most of the outfits are based in part on centuries-old customs, but every now and then new figures are added,” explains Anton Ostler. The wildest scenes are the Maschkera on the mill wheel. Ostler is part of this group: “The mill wheel – which we call ‘Mührale’ – is a large log with two wagon wheels attached to it.
Four people sit on top, dressed as little men and women. Ahead of it run 20 to 24 people, who pull the log through the town with ropes and poles – at a sprint. The wheels spin round like crazy.” It’s not entirely safe: “For example, there was one time when somebody’s harness broke and he flew through the air”, reports the artist.
Driving out the winter demons
But who actually hides behind the masks? “It’s an unwritten law that only men can perform Maschkera. But let’s not forget that it’s a masked custom which is all about not being recognised. A number of times women have joined in with the Maschkera”, grins Anton Ostler.
So what is this very lively spectacle all about? “Earlier the Maschkera was performed to drive out winter and the demons – so it was a heathen custom. Since it was so much fun, the Maschkera has continued up to the present day, when nobody really believes in demons any more,” explains Ostler.
... from Toni
Skiing at the Kranzberg
The Kranzberg ski region is a lovely, small ski resort where you don’t need to worry about being mown down. There are only two-man lifts so the transport capacity is limited and the pistes never get that busy. The ski huts have retained the charm of days gone by, with cosy bars and stoves. As a child I spent almost every day there in winter.
skiparadies-kranzberg.de (only in German)
Gocart Fun at Kranzberg
In summer you can hare down the Kranzberg in go-carts. The Wildensee lake is also very beautiful with its flowers and rolling meadows. For anyone interested in culture the Violin Museum in Mittenwald is well worth a visit.
mountaincarts-mittenwald.de (only in German)
Swimming at Wildensee
The Wildensee with the flower and hump meadows on the shore is also very beautiful. Thanks to its shallow depth of only two meters, it is one of the warmest lakes in the area and is considered a popular swimming lake.
Location of Wildensee
Mittenwald Violin Museum
If you are interested in culture, the violin making museum in one of the oldest houses in Mittenwald is well worth a visit. The exhibition includes 200 violins and plucked instruments.
geigenbaumuseum-mittenwald.de (only in German)