Time-travel: Staufen in the Middle Ages

Staufen im Breisgau is a historical town and its streets are paved with cobble-stones. The old houses tell their tales of life in former days.

An entire day was devoted to togetherness, in this old town when it celebrated its annual Staufener time-travel festival during which almost 600 people of Staufen rallied together, donned Middle Age costumes and worked with implements of those days.

The festival scenario began at the market place, like in the old days, with drums and cannons. In the streets of the Middle Ages you could hear the music played on quaint instruments, buy ripe wine and cuisine of all sorts. Right near the village fountain some people were roasting meat, on a table was a pig’s head. The motley, colourfully clothed people strutted by, even cute little blonde and brunette children were walking, running, dancing and frolicking in costumes. They loved being a part of the spectacle in Staufen.

At the Kronenplatz, a historical merry-go-round started going round powered by hefty men, and both young and old were encouraged to take a ride. A Taler for a ride, the currency of the Middle Ages, which was made equivalent to an Euro, and the money went towards rebuilding this historical town because the house-walls had terrible, gaping cracks on them. The cracks were caused by geothermal-borings some 140 metres into the earth in the vicinity of Staufen.

At the marketplace in the Hauptstrasse was a Black Forest cherry cake festival whereby Staufen became the navel of the Schwarzwald. The Staufener sang the song ‘Schwarzwälder Kirsch’ and the people rejoiced, swayed with each other and relished the Black Forest cakes. There’s nothing like it and you must try it when you’re in the Black Forest. My NY friends Shanta and Kanak loved during their sojourn here. The cakes were baked by Staufen’s housewives and sold in the marketplace. The Schwarzwäldertorte has a lot of cream and schnaps in it, and one of the best alcohols is produced by Staufen's Schladerer, which is a great way to consume fruit. It certainly was Baden’s biggest Black Forest cake party.

The picturesque Faust-town’s inner, romantic aspect has attracted a good many movie-makers such as: Gustaf Gründens, Gerd Fröbe (Goldfinger) and Sonja Ziemann. The film ‘Schwarzwälder Kirsch,’ a Heimat movie starring Marianna Hold was made in 1958.

Meanwhile, you could hear the drums of the Stadtwache, who came marching, dressed in white shirts, scarlet half-sleeve tunics with three glasses and four-star on their shields, the men carrying red-yellow flags, trumpets and long, dangerous-looking spears. They wore black trousers, long socks and black shoes. They had received orders from the Stadtvogt (bailiff) to protect the town. The Vogt also proclaimed strict rules and regulations for the common market-vendors and tavern-owners. The Stadtwache went to work, and took charge of Staufen’s tower, the Malefiz-tower and the Bader’s Hole.

Since the friendly towns had sent their musicians, there were Spital-drummers from Biberach, and Swedish-music from Überlingen. I remember watching a Schwertletanz (sword-dance) during the Sweden-Procession at Überlingen upon Lake Constance. Even the players from Heidenspass, Arundo Donax were there. ‘Beggars’ from the Middle Ages came by and begged you to contribute a Taler or two.

‘Paint a fairy-tale town for me’ ran a story by Hellmut Holthaus, and this story was accompanied by music, fire-play and lights. This highlighted the beginning of eighty-one years of Staufener Heimat-plays, with a theme that Staufen has identified itself with. The text of the Faust-play was written by Hermann Ays in 1930 for the first time. Since then it has become a part of Staufen’s cultural history.

Z’Nieni um Elf:

‘A place is always free! We invite you to a z’nieni,’ says a young blonde. Strange isn’t it? The Swiss say the same. It means a breakfast together with 600 actors and actresses of Staufen at 11am, right in the middle of the town. What do you need for this open-air breakfast? You need robust, street-furniture, as many hungry-participants as possible, long white table-cloths, cups and plates from Grandma’s kitchen cupboard, cutlery to mix, cut; spoons and ,of course, everything you need for a good breakfast-table. The decoration, the music and fresh air to breathe. A splendid, colourful ambient.

After sundown there was a historical procession with torches. The procession began at the Kaplanei Gate, along the town-wall, through the back of the town (Hinterstädtle) and along the main street to the catholic church, accompanied by drummers, flutists and fanfare.

Like in the humorous film ‘Dinner For One,’ which runs on almost all television channels in Germany, some things don’t change in Staufen and one such theme is ‘the good olde school days.’ This small play was a reminder of Staufen’s two 400 year old schools. One was the Latin school, and he other was the People’s School. You could enter a classroom with a blackboard, chalk and, of course, an outsized picture of the Great Duke of Germany hanging on the wall. What was interesting was obsolete methods of teaching coupled with discipline and strictness on the part of the teacher. This never fails to make the people laugh and shake their heads. It reminded me of my British School in the foothills of the Himalayas, where ‘spare the rod and spoil the child’ was the pedagogic philosophy. They didn’t spare the rod.


More by :  Satis Shroff

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