We were in town for not 10 minutes when a tall man in a dirdnl and a blonde wig walked right up to me and kissed me on the cheek. No introduction, nothing, his arms spread out, his hands facing upwards as though he was greeting an old friend. His companion, a similarly attired person of less height wrapped an arm around my shoulder and leaned it to tell me something unintelligable.
On the stage in the center of town, two bewigged women lip sycnched to painfully bad German pop songs while the MC, in a used car salesman jacket, riffed on the song titles. From up the street came the sound of drumming and handclapping. The Trommelweiber – men dressed in white bonnets and skirts practiced their marching routine, swilled beer, and smoked, their masks tipped up on top of their heads.
Tina and I squeezed through the main square to find the Fetzen and the Fishchermen. (I give random ukulele lessons to Tina’s son, Alex.) The Fetzen-Frau joked with Tina about trading for her orange scarf. The Fisherman waved their baited hooks around – some of them had candy on the line and were able to catch a few small children, others had actual bits of fish and you had to be careful to avoid not getting whacked in the face with a bit of sardine. They were followed, finally, by the Flinserln – this is what we’d come to to see. The musicians, up front, played a string tune. They were followed by a large troup in elaboroate sequined and appliqued costumes. The sun hit the little sequins, sending bits of light out in to the street. Flinserl roughly translates to “tinsel” – the sparkly stuff with which the costumes are covered.
In the center of town, the Flinserln gathered little groups of children and taught them the Fasching rhyme, at the end of which they’d all shout “Nuss!” (Nuts!). The Flinserl would then toss walnuts or tangerines in to the air, and the kids would scramble for the treats.
“Heut ist da Faschingtag,
heut sauf i was i mag,
heut mach i ‘s Testament
‘s Geld geht zan End.”
We went hunting for a cup of coffee and ended up in the private party of the Trommelweiber and the Flinserln, unmasked now, drinking champagne and eating Faschingskrapfen. “Look, it’s the governor!” said Tina, making her way between the packed humans to snap a photo. We snaked through the tight crowd at the Levandovsky, usually a staid, civilized coffee house, now full of clowns and jesters, but were unable to find a table. “No matter,” said Tina, “Let’s go to the bar, we’ll find something there.”
Inside a blurry trio of Mozarts drank beer. We sat on a bench with a handful of costume punk teenagers. Tina (she teaches kids just this age) asked them to repeat the Flinserln rhyme and baited the boys. “Ask that woman where she’s from,” she said. My neighbor, a 15 year old in a torn white t-shirt, turned to me and I told him. “George Bush is an asshole,” he said. “Nice to meet you,” I responded, and shook his hand. Another boy, across the table from me, proceded to list all the places in America he wanted to go. His sidekick, a quiet kid with a spectacular mohawk, leaned forward to let me touch his hair when I reached out my hand towards his head. One of the Mozarts stumbled over and slapped a piece of paper on the table in front of me. “My autograph!” he said. I turned the paper over to read “Wolfi” scrawled in ball point pen.
The Mozarts bid us good day and we headed back to the car, winding through a crowd of fur coated ladies, wasted pirates, stray Flinserln, witches, little princesses, old men in traditional hats, television camera men, and tourists.
You want pictures, right? They’re here.