The main reason that I was hanging around a snowy Munich square (taking pictures of a blue bike), was that I was waiting to witness the spectacle that is the Schäfflertanz (or Cooper’s Dance), that takes place just before Carnival time once every seven years!
Thought to originate in the 1500′s after the plague visited and decimated the local population, the Coopers of Munich very kindly decided to put on a special dance to tempt people back out of confinement, and to cheer them up! I am not sure why it’s performed only every seven years however…
The crowd close to the Hofbraukeller told us we were in the right place, and sure enough at 11.30 the (disappointingly unhistoric but practical) coach pulled up, and they all piled off, band first. The “Fools” followed close behind, and immediately set about tormenting the crowd by decorating people’s noses with ash – ours included! Then came the Schäfflers themselves immaculately dressed, and wielding the hefty fir boughs that they dance with…
And then, off they went… some 30-odd (not altogether that small) gentlemen in brightly coloured uniforms, performing immaculate and historic dances whilst swinging ginormous bits of tree. It sounds odd, and it might have been just ever so slightly, but it was also completely brilliant, and they were very obviously enjoying themselves! The atmosphere was great!
The culmination of the performance was the formation of a rather large fir-bough crown in the centre of the dancers, followed by a speech (you will forgive me if I can’t tell you what he said, my German lessons don’t start until March!), and a bit of hoop swinging. But not just any old hoop swinging, this hoop had little glasses glued to the inside, which were filled with something dangerous no doubt, and he didn’t spill a drop!
Watching this ancient tradition being kept alive, it reminded me of England’s Morris Dancers in lots of ways, but you might argue that the Schäffler’s have better outfits!…
As a Landlord’s daughter, I remember our pub being the focal point for the local Morris Dancers who would turn up and give a hearty performance in return for lots of beer (that’s how it seemed to a 9 year old anyway!). But this lot would have been more than welcome with my Dad, as they bring their own barrels with them! That hideous wooden horse thing that the Morris Dancers cart around with them was never a welcome visitor for me however. What with it’s clicky clacky teeth, it was the stuff of nightmares! Luckily there are no grotesque horses in the schaffler’s troup!
Afterwards we retired to the Hofbraukeller for some light refreshments, and to take advantage of the complimentary babysitting for an hour or two while we thawed out….
Apparently you can command the Cooper’s to perform for you, but as they only have a limited time to fit everyone in, the chances are you won’t get a personal performance. But should you be in Munich over the next few days, there’s still a chance you can see them performing at various sites around the city, up until Shrove Tuesday. If not, then you can actually catch a glimpse of them on a daily basis, on the lower Carillion of the Glockenspiel at Marienplatz!
PS. Mum, I found someone who wants to be in your gang!