Playing With Fire


There were no demons in evidence, no people in animal costumes, no-one swearing allegiance to Satan on the hills above Sulzburg Saturday night. Which may explain why there were only about fifty people, mostly children, taking part in Scheibenfeuer.

Google tells me that translates as “disc fire” – which really doesn’t explain anything.

When I showed up at the Sulzburg market square I quickly realized it was a low key event. Sunday’s parade drew thousands with the roads into town closed hours beforehand. Saturday evening I found only a few people waiting to make the trek up the hill to the bonfire. Most it seemed had left earlier.IMG_20200229_1924063

I am not automatically opposed to cultural traditions. I have a friend here who wants no part of Scheibenfeuer because of  its origins. In folk tradition, the idea of throwing a burning disc into the valley from the hill above the town chases winter away.

From the description it seemed to me a bit like Groundhog Day – and no-one really takes that seriously. Or do they? looking online I see that the practice was first recorded in some parts of Germany in 1090, so they have been doing this for a long time. I wanted to see for myself.

You might see such a festival in small-town Canada, but certainly not in an urban centre where safety rules are enforced. City authorities take a dim view on people throwing fire around.

Scheibenfeuer involves torches and fire and children throwing burning things. You can imagine the potential for disaster. Though on Saturday there was more of a mud than fire hazard – heavy rains made the footing treacherous.IMG_20200229_1921204

It was a social event more than anything else, a chance to do something different perhaps in the winter gloom. Light a torch, walk to the top of the hill and enjoy the bonfires and, or course, the beer and sausages. (There were child-friendly drinks also.)

I had thought the torches were thrown down the hill, but it was more complicated than that and not wanting to get muddier than I already was, I didn’t get close to where the children were enthusiastically golfing burning wooden disks off a small ramp into a field. Seemed harmless enough, and everyone was enjoying themselves. Maybe there were incantations at the beginning of the evening – I had joined the second wave, or maybe, given that there were only four of us it was more of a ripple.

I didn’t stay long at the site. It was due to rain again, and I wanted to get home before it did. I’d had sausage for lunch, and one is my daily limit. It didn’t seem like the best time to get to know new people, my wife wasn’t there to carry the conversational ball when my German ran out.IMG_20200229_1920265

I’m glad I went through. It is important to, if not take part, at least observe the cultural life of the area. Now at least I know that not everything associated with Fastnacht is completely negative.

Though my German friend might not agree with that assessment.


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