Tschäggättä Masks

It’s Tschäggättä time again!  Last year, we went to see the Tschäggättä parade in Switzerland’s Lötschental Valley during Carnival/Fasnacht.  The costumes and the masks amazed us in particular.

Until the 1900’s, only the valley’s inhabitants knew Lötschental’s masks.  Over the next four decades, Tschäggättä masks gained recognition as works of art and a unique cultural heritage.  After WWII, with recognition, the Lötschental Valley’s increased contact with the world, and greater demand, there was a golden age of Tschäggättä masks.

Tschäggättä masks are instantly recognizable.  Their distinguishing features include:

  • Large, smiling mouths, either with carved wooden teeth, or toothless (sometimes they have animal teeth
  • The mouth is either s-shaped, curved up or rectangular
  • They usually feature bulging, uneven eyes

 

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The Road Through The Alps Into Switzerland’s Lötschental Valley

 

Last weekend, we went to Wilder, Switzerland to see the Tschäggättä and Carnival parade. Wilder is located in the Swiss Alps in the Lötschental Valley.  It is one of the most remote places in Switzerland.  It remained largely cut off from the outside world until the beginning of the 20th century.

 

Courtesy of Mappery.com

 

Even then, the valley remained remote and difficult to reach, especially during the winters. It was so isolated that in the 1932, Dr. Weston Price, an American dentist, went there to find cultures relatively untouched by the modern world.  He included it in his book of nutritional studies across diverse cultures, Nutrition and Physical Degeneration.   At the time, some towns in the valley were accessible only by footpath.

 

 

When Switzerland built a road into the valley, they did it with typical Swiss quality and precision.  It is built into a steep gorge and hugs the side of the mountain.  You can see the road climb up the mountain until it disappears into it.

 

 

We saw the first bit of snow and ice at the first curve.  Coming out of that turn, you hug the edge of the road.  If you aren’t the driver, the views are fantastic (even if the drive is a bit hair-raising).

 

 

The road zigs and zags up the mountain.  Switchbacks abound.

 

 

Switchbacks are courtesy of Google Maps

 

Looking at the map, you can (1) all the switchbacks, and (2) why I am glad that I wasn’t the driver.

 

 

Surprisingly, there are cute roadside picnic spots sprinkled along the way.

 

English: Alpine Ibex near Lauchernalp (Lötsche...

English: Alpine Ibex near Lauchernalp (Lötschental), Switzerland (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

 

Since this is Switzerland, there are tunnels and covered areas to protect the roads from impassability due to snow.  As you climb back into the valley, the dates on the exterior of the tunnels becomes progressively more recent.

 

 

When we exited the tunnels, we thought the road had been reduced to one lane because the road narrowed.  We were wrong.  Although it may have been slightly more narrow due to the snow, traffic continued in both directions.  There just wasn’t much room for you to put a road.

 

 

We were rewarded for long drive with a fantastic festival in a stunning setting.  It is well worth the effort to get to Wilder.

 

 

We were lucky the weather (and roads) was clear.  In 1999, around 1,000 avalanches crashed down Switzerland’s mountains.   The  Lötschental Valley is an avalanche hot spot.  That year, avalanches made the road impassable and cut the valley off from the outside world.  Tourists and people with health problems were helicoptered out while locals and food were flown in!

 

 

 

 

Tschäggättä Parade To Celebrate Carnival In The Lötschental Valley

If you go to the the Lötschental Valley‘s Carnival parade in Wilder, Switzerland, be ready for Tschäggättä to surprise and scare you.  Tschäggättä roam the streets for days before and after the parades creating mischief and scaring unsuspecting victims.

Witches sold the Lötschentaler Chiächlini, the traditional fatty, sugary Carnival/Fat Tuesday/Fat Thursday treat.  Although I couldn’t find any mention of Lötschentaler Chiächlini, I found this recipe for Swiss Carnival Cookies (Fasnachtsküchlein) that seems similar.  They were good, a cross between a donut and a cookie.  They would have been even better fresh out of the fryer.  I wanted to dip mine in chocolate.

Lots of bands helped make the atmosphere festive.  They played everything from versions of Metallica, Bon Jovi and Kiss to Lady Gaga.  It was easy to pick out the foreigners because they were they ones dancing like idiots to the music.

It must have been a long day for the marching bands and at over a mile in altitude, it was important for them to stay hydrated.

Although Tschäggättä were everywhere, there was much more to the parade.

People of all ages took part and even the smaller participants wore costumes.  Many of the floats appeared to have a political bent.  This one seemed to compare the value of the Euro to that of shredded paper or confetti.

Sarkozy is always present for discussions on the Euro.  He didn’t talk much though as he was passing out tasty beverages.

Traditionally, Tschäggättä were only the villages unmarried men.  Although there is no way of knowing who (or what) is under the furs and masks, Tschäggättä has reportedly expanded to married men and children.  These spooky figures were all women.  Their eeriness appeared better suited for haunting than mischief-making.

Both participants and onlookers had a jolly good time.  Maybe some people were having a bit too much fun.  This costumed observer was scolded by an older Swiss gentleman for kicking snow.  Über Swiss.

Costumed characters on floats tossed confetti, blew bubbles, sang and handed out drinks, cookies and candy.

I got into the fun by scooping up confetti during a lull in the action and tossing it on our unsuspecting friends.  Luckily, I was able to scoop up my wallet that went flying.  

I wasn’t the only one horsing around.  These little observers came prepared with silly string to spray on the parade’s participants.

This group chose global warming as their theme.  The tiny children dressed up as snow balls were adorable and seemed to be enjoying themselves.

The arc needed some minor repairs right in front of us.  We assisted by holding their large bottles of Sangria.  They rewarded us with some.  The costumes were an example of cultural differences.  I don’t know if we would see such painted faces or Fu Manshus in the United States.

The parade finished with a procession of over 100 Tschäggättä!

Sometimes, Carnival celebrations aren’t appropriate for children of families.  Tschäggättä managed to have something for everyone and still be tons of fun.  The atmosphere was playful, cheery and festive.  Everyone from young to old made merry in a ridiculously beautiful setting.