Posted by: Nazausgraben | April 10, 2011


It is Passionsonntag, and this warm Spring morning in the Tirol exudes green. For everywhere, as if a switch has been activated, the farmer’s field grasses  have grown as if overnight. Amidst this verdant expanse is a sea of wildflowers, deep blues, joyful whites and blazing sun-like yellows.

The Ulrichskirche, glistening as morning’s beams come stralling through the thick baroque glass windows, has taken on the visage of this late Lenten weekend. For it is Passionssonntag…Passion Sunday. All free-standing and Altar Crosses and images have been bedecked in deep purple cloth, and will remain so until Easter.

Pinswang's St. Ulrichskirche on Passiontide Sunday, April 2011


Ulrichskirche Crosses and Images Covered for Passiontide

During Holy Week (Karwoche) before Easter, many of us from the village will transform this area fore the High Altar into an 18th century Heilige Grab (Holy Grave), which will remain in place until after Easter. You can read more about the Ulrichskirche Heilige Grab in a previous chapter of this BLOG (April 2010).

It is also during this period of Lent, on the first Fastensonntag (Fasting Sunday) that Pinswangers celebrate a fest that pre-dates Christianity…to a time when the Celts inhabited our valley. It was at that time that figures representing the change of season from Winter to Spring were paraded about and then cast onto large fires, symbolizing the end of the dark cold months. Over the centuries, the figure came to represent an old hag, who (in her current appearance) carries an umbrella and a string of large sausages.

Village children up to the age of eleven gather in front of Peter and Gertraud’s beautiful old farmhouse at the western border of the village. Then as the sun begins its descent behind the Lech mountains, one of the stronger lads hefts the hag aloft and the now 40 or so strong gathering of Pinswang’s children process down the main street…the hag held high at the front of the line. She is spun about, the sausages flailing, and the children cry out, „Vivat hoch, die Hex hat Durst — sie will auch eine lange Wurst!“ (“The witch is thirsty and also wants a big sausage!”)

The Children's Procession

The ‘Hexenverbrennen’ procession wends it’s way through the village, stopping at both the Cafe Appenstein and Guthof zum Schluxen for a cup of hot punch and (for the adults), hot spiced wine. Just as the warm elixir starts to have its soothing effects, it is time to press on up onto the mountain side towering over the Via Claudia (Roman Road).

Some elect to take the short but steeper route, following the cowpaths that create ridges along the face of the mountain. Others stay with the narrow asphalt path that winds its way up to the meeting area where all gather for the official ceremonies of the evening.

As the sun makes its final farewell beyond the distant mountainous ridge, a massive bonfire begins to burn. Dry crisp discarded Christmas trees form the previous December and January are now piled high and are set alight. An inferno of crackling branches send burning particles into the deep purpling March evening sky. A universe of stars wafts about us, sweeping above and through the large crowd of spectators (mostly parents and friends of the children in the procession).

In the midst of this pyrrhic spectacle, is the old straw hag, perched atop her upright wooden post. She, along with the old dry wood, succumbs to the bonfire before us. But, this is just the start of an even more spectacular even to follow…the „Scheibenschlagen“.

The boys who have been part of the procession have with them long tapered branches, looking not dissimilar to the “Tom Sawyer” wooden fishing poles fashioned for ages by such young boys and girls throughout the world…the type with a long thin string and hook fashioned from one of mother’s sewing needles affixed to the end. It is doused into the deep employing an unfortunate worm skewered to the hook and wriggling about…a perfect meal for a finned scaly freshwater delicacy.

But these poles are not for fishing. Rather, their tops are whittled to a point that is to be inserted into a thin wooden square, whose aerodynamically curved underside is designed to provide lift. The boys, their older Brothers and Fathers  are all wearing sets of these wooden squares on ropes strung through holes in the center of each square …hanging about their bodies in a manner akin to a bandana of bullets sheathed about soldiers or desperadoes.

Now, in the clearing atop the mountain overlooking Schluxen, with the old Hag about to relinquish her load of sausages to the fire, the boys and men take these slender wooden rods and insert the tapered end into the hole atop one of the wooden molded squares. They then place the square into the fire, holding it therein until it too is alight.

Setting the Wooden Disks Alight

The poles and their slowly burning wooden projectiles are held aloft into the cooling night, and are waved about slightly so as to keep the slight burning alive.

Then one at a time, each of the men and boys goes to the edge of the cliff overlooking the vast farmers fields below. There they stand to the side of a wooden plank..about four-feet long, whose end facing over the cliff is slightly elevated.

It is time to launch these bravely burning wooden projectiles into the night sky. Each ‘shooter’ begins to swing the long rods, much like a golf player set to hit a very long drive. With each backward and forward swing, the wooden disc glows and burns more fiercely. The swings become elongated, traveling more than 180-degrees from fore to aft terminal point.

Suddenly, at a time when the shooter feels right, he lowers to rod and projectile toward the upward sloped board, and strikes it as if hitting a golf ball. The burning wooden disk slaps the board and disengages from the tip of the rod. If the timing and angle of motion are correct, the disk will fly off into the pitch night sky, high into the air over the grass field below. It will sail for perhaps hundreds of feet, spinning wildly and shooting off tiny pieces of burning spark.

A Burning Disk Strikes the Launching Board and Flies Off Into the Night

Eventually, as speed and lift dissolve, the disk make a rapid descent…it’s landing marked by a final splash of orange that is quickly extinguished in the wet soil far below.

This remarkable shooting star spectacle continues for the next couple of hours, with three or four disks being shot forth simultaneously in a literal volley of rapid fire.

Eventually, the time comes for the crowd to descend back down the mountain..all the way dodging the remaining disks being launched from the heights directly above.

Once again, the night is quiet…the stars are fixed in the heavens. The rite of Spring had come and gone and the old hag will have to wait another year for her grog and wurst.

As we make our way along the darkened Via Claudia back to our home, Susi and I cannot help but think about how lucky we are to be living here in Pinswang. As local traditions, religion and cultures are being subsumed by those who wish to do away with the notion of national identity, we feel doubly blessed to be living in an oasis, where beliefs and practices associated with ones treasure of historical foundation remain alive and celebrated with great love.


  1. What a wonderful tradition–I can picture competitions between the boys to see who can launch his projectile the furthest. This reminds me of a festival we used to attend in Santa Fe (land of my birth) when I was young. It scared all of us kids to death.

    I guess we will just have to move to Pinswang to be able to take in all of the culture you enjoy on a daily basis. I love your posts and learn so much!

  2. Do you know what a gift you give to me, and to many others, to share these marvelous places and traditions with us. This Christmas I went all the way back to last Christmas and your stories. And someday when you publish all this, your neighbors and family will have a treasure. Can’t wait to see you two in Anchorage!

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