I went to a Perchtenlauf this weekend in Berchtesgaden, a town nestled in the Alps near the Austrian border. It’s surrounded on three sides by Austria, and is actually south of Salzburg. Berchtesgaden is nearly as far to the Southeast as you can go and still remain in Germany.
A Perchtenlauf is a fascinating holiday tradition. The 5th of December is Krampus Night or Krampusnacht. On the 6th of December, the Feast of St. Nicholas occurs. On both nights, young men dress up as Krampus and roam the streets frightening children. Krampus is generally demonic in appearance, and typically kind of beastly. Krampus is said to punish children who have misbehaved during the Yule season. There’s folklore about him carrying naughty children back to his lair in a sack. On the 6th, St. Nicholas visits, looking a great deal like a Bishop. In Austria, Bavaria, and several other nearby regions, St. Nicholas is accompanied by Krampus on the 6th of December as well.
In Berchtesgaden, Krampus is also accompanied by Perchten. Wrapped from head to toe in straw, the Buttnmandl join the Krampus as they run noisily from home to home and around the community. Their heads are covered with a mask, usually with a long tongue to add to the frightening appearance. They have large cowbells attached to their backs, which clank when they run or jump. The picture to the left is from the Berchtesgaden website- I wasn’t able to get a good picture of any of the straw-clad Buttnmandl with my own camera, and I wanted to include a picture of them. The banner image from Berchtesgaden.de includes all three types: Buttnmandl, Krampus, and St. Nicholas.
In Berchtesgaden, you’ll never see one without the other. The Perchten carry a switch, and they strike passers-by with them for luck. When girls or children dance with the Perchten, their faces are marked with black charcoal- proof they have danced with the devil, so to speak.
We arrived in Berchtesgaden in the afternoon on the 6th of December, and went into the city in search of these mythic beasts. We saw signs of them near store-fronts.
It was a snowy day in the Berchtesgaden Christkindlmarkt, and we only had a little bit of time before the sun set.
After dark, we quickly found more sign that the Buttnmandl had passed by- everywhere they went, there was loose straw on the ground to mark their passing.
It was clear that at some point in the past, a mighty hunter had killed three of the beasts: their heads were on display in the Altstadt.
I thought the decorations throughout the city were very nice.
After a few mugs of hot mulled Apple wine, we finally heard the clanking of the beasts in the city. Each time we heard the clanking of those cowbells, we walked toward where the sound had been, and found nothing but straw. Finally, after several passes not finding the Perchten, we stumbled across a crowd surrounding several of them. I was not able to get clear pictures, but I assure you there were many of them.
The bells on their backs made a very distinct clattering sound. Hours later, after we had returned to the hotel, I heard the sound passing by before I went to bed. A group of Perchten passed in front of the hotel, and then another. I nearly went back outside, but the sound passed so swiftly I know I wouldn’t have seen anything more. These cowbells made quite a lot of noise.
Here’s a video clip from the same place a few years ago, to give you an idea of the sound of the bells.
Have you ever seen a Krampuslauf or a Perchtenlauf?