Hanse Wenzl lives in the Bavarian Forest. When he celebrates Wolfauslassen with his companions on the weekend before St. Martin, they make an infernal racket with their outsized bells and cracking whips
Shepherd Hanse Wenzl
The Wolfauslassen was started by herdsmen in Lower Bavaria in the 18th century. It stems from a time when wolves and bears were common in the forests of Bavaria. In order to scare the wild beasts away, the cows wore bells round their necks. This whip-cracking, or “Goaßlschnalzen”, is still an essential feature of today’s Wolfauslassen ceremony. The herdsmen were also celebrating the end of a successful year up on the mountain pastures.
A deafening noise. A loud crack of the whip. The clanging of bells. Once a year in the picturesque village of Langdorf (population 2,000) in the Bayerischer Wald, strange things start to happen. On the weekend before St. Martin’s Day in November, they “drive out the wolf”.
Quite a bang
Around 50 men and women move through the village at night, ringing huge bells as they go. It’s no easy task, as some of the bells weigh more than 20 kilograms. The Wolfauslassen ceremony is a noisy spectacle and a unique, ancient custom that only lives on in a few places in the forests of Bavaria. The event is exciting for locals and visitors alike.
Hans Wenzl acts as “herdsman” to lead the Langdorf pack. “My grandfather brought the custom back to life in Langdorf”, he explains. “It had been forgotten for many years”. Hans has been helping to “drive out the wolf” since he was twelve years old.
The origins of the Wolfauslassen ceremony
The Wolfauslassen was started by herdsmen in Lower Bavaria in the 18th century. It stems from a time when wolves and bears were common in the forests of Bavaria. In order to scare the wild beasts away, the cows wore bells round their necks. When the herdsmen brought the cattle down from the mountains, they flicked whips through the air to make a loud crack.
"My grandfather revived the tradition"
This whip-cracking, or “Goaßlschnalzen”, is still an essential feature of today’s Wolfauslassen ceremony. However, the custom was not just about scaring away the wolves and bears: The herdsmen were also celebrating the end of a successful year up on the mountain pastures. Nowadays, in many places the cattle are not driven to and from the pastures as they once were, but the custom is still alive.
As darkness falls it all gets going. The Langdorf “Wolfauslasser” meet at the town hall where the bells are handed out. “It’s a matter of honour to carry as big a bell as possible”, says Wenzl with a grin. They start by sounding their bells: “We stand in a circle and find our rhythm. That way our younger members learn how to do it”, explains Wenzl.
The town hall is the first station of the actual Wolfauslassen, where the mayor is on hand to receive the group. They ring their bells and head herdsman Wenzl recites a saying: “With a knife we’ll stab them, with a stick we’ll hit them, so no wolf will dare to come close.” Then they leave the town hall and parade in three or four rows through the village, clanging their bells and cracking their whips. The exhausting tour draws to a close at around one in the morning.
For locals and visitors
The people of Langdorf identify themselves with the custom of their ancestors and therefore keep the tradition of the Wolfauslassen alive. This traditional event gives visitors an authentic insight into what makes Bavaria and its people so distinctive. The participants are delighted to attract a big audience: “Everyone is welcome to come”, Wenzl says proudly.
“There’s always a huge crowd, especially at the beginning. In 2015 there were around 100 spectators at the town hall”. Many then accompany the parade some of the way. Children, in particular, love the noise of the bells and the whips.
... from Hanse
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