Our neighbour was insistent we had to take part in Weckensonntag, which is held the third Sunday before Easter. She told us it is the biggest and most important festival of the year. That sounded strange to me. I’d seen no preparations, seen no posters. “Bigger than Fastnacht?” I asked. “Much bigger.”
That made me curious. There were 5,000 people on the streets for Fastnacht., more than twice as many people as live in Sulzburg. How could something bigger be happening and there not be more on public display? Further questioning brought about the story, though I’m hazy on a few details as it was told in German.
In 1715 Katharina Barbara, the wife of the local Margrave (that’s a nobleman positioned somewhere between a prince and a count), concerned for the well-being of the poor, opened a free pharmacy on the main street to serve the poor and underprivileged. It’s still there, though no longer free. In Canada we don’t have businesses that old, except for the Hudson’s Bay Company, and they are no longer Canadian owned. Here 1715 seems like yesterday – there’s a local brewery that was founded in the 13th century, though I don’t know if it is still owned by the same family.
Katharina Barbara also, I was told, started a custom of distributing bread to the village children on Weckensonntag, so that one day a year at least they could eat to their heart’s content.
For more than 300 years this has been a local celebration – I don’t think it takes place anywhere else. The Margrave and his family are long gone, but the city has a festival and distributes bread, first to the children, then to any adult who wants some. There are a few people in costume and someone portraying Katharina Barbara makes a small speech (along the with burgermeister) from the balcony of the rathaus (town hall) located across the Market Square from the Margrave’s former residence (which doesn’t look like a castle to me though I have heard it referred to that way).
The event starts with a parade of sorts. A small marching band, with Katharina Barbara and the burgermeister in a horse-drawn carriage, followed by the village school children (and parents) proceed from the village school to the Market Square. That takes about ten minutes. The school choir sings a couple of songs, Katharina Barbara makes her speech and the bread is distributed.
I think there are other activities, but it was raining so we didn’t stay to the end. The school kids were racing around the old church that is now a museum, but I couldn’t see if there was a beginning or end to the race. The bar was open (the bar is always open in Germany) and there were also cupcakes for sale.
I didn’t do a formal count, but my guess is that there may have been 500 people out for the event, respectable but Fastnacht is ten times bigger. The difference is that this is a local event, it doesn’t draw the tourist crowd.
More thoughts on this (and more pictures) tomorrow.