The Allgäu shows its scary side in December. Evil spirits are driven out with horns and rods. Matthias Hecht from Sonthofen is a regular fixture of the Klausentreiben
"Klausentreiben" with Matthias Hecht
The custom of “Klausentreiben” is approximately 1,000 years old and can be traced back to old Celtic customs, In the past, people wanted to drive away demons with this custom and wanted to look more frightening than them for that. The Klausen are covered in fur from head to foot, a cow bell around the waist and horns on the head. Women are generally involved in the same association as the men as so-called “Bärbele”.
Custom of Klausentreiben
Advent in Sonthofen in the Allgäu: huge, monstrous figures with shaggy fur and large horns make the southernmost town in Germany unsafe. They run through the streets, making a lot of noise with their cow bells and rattles, and anyone who gets too close to them risks being whipped by their twigs. The terrifying spectacle is the Bavarian tradition of “Klausentreiben” – and something only for the brave.
Matthias Hecht was born and bred in Sonthofen and is the Deputy Chairman of the association for the event in the town with 20,000 inhabitants. The town is located in the bottom of a valley and is completely surrounded by mountains.
“The custom of “Klausentreiben” is approximately 1,000 years old and can be traced back to old Celtic customs,” explains Hecht. “In the past, people wanted to drive away demons with this custom and wanted to look more frightening than them for that.” Anyone who sees the Sonthofen “Klausen” in their horrible consumes thinks that they achieve it.
The custom is approximately 1,000 years old
The Klausen drive away demons
Only those who are members of the association, unmarried, at least 16 years old and male may take part in the “Klausentreiben”. The age of the “Klausen” is correspondingly low and is between 16 and 26. Women are not excluded from the winter custom, however: they are generally involved in the same association as the men as so-called “Bärbele”. The principle of “Bärbeletreiben” is very similar; the “Bärbele” costumes are generally based on witches.
In the Allgäu, the costumes are called “Klausen-Häs”, they weigh up to 25 kilograms, and the participants make them themselves. Every association has its own guidelines for this. “For us, the basic concept is: covered in fur from head to foot, a cow bell around the waist and horns on the head, which can only have one point for insurance reasons,” says Hecht. “We take cow horns and screw them to motorbike or ski helmets which are also covered in fur. Some make the helmets even bigger with polystyrene.” Many members of the association even sew their costumes themselves, which can take two to three weeks.
The next generation is ready
Hecht has been involved in the association for 18 years and would like to pass on the tradition to younger people, which has been achieved very successfully in recent years. The membership numbers have risen by 30 per cent, meaning that there were an impressive 160 “Klausen” and 120 “Bärbele” on the move in Sonthofen in 2015. If it were up to Hecht, his five year old son would be a future “Klausen”, which is why he is already introducing him to the custom. Isn’t that much too scary for a little child. Hecht: “No, they grow into it here. He isn’t afraid of the “Klausen” – but respects them.”
The correct safety distance
Hecht: “We usually only hit people who invite it.” Amongst the younger people of Sonthofen, it is a popular test of courage to provoke the “Klausen” and the “Bärbele”. “However, it is not always that easy to separate those who want to take part and those who just want to watch, so everyone should really expect to be hit now and then,” says Hecht.
His tip: “Anyone who stands far back, behind the cordon and anyone who is holding a cup of mulled win in their hands is relatively safe. And so are little children and older people.” Three members of the association act as senior “Klausen” and ensure that the “Klausen” don’t run right. After the official part, the “Klausen” then go from pub to pub – where no one has to fear being hit any more.
The “Bärbele” move along the cordoned off pedestrian zone on 4th December, and the “Klausen” on 5th and 6th December. In Sonthofen, there are around 7,000 to 8,000 spectators here every evening. The official part lasts from 8 p.m. until 10 p.m. and gets a bit precarious for the spectators. Anyone who doesn’t keep their distance gets whipped by the twigs.