Whipcrackers, the protectors of the Alps.

You read correctly, the Whipcrackers are the protectors of the Alps, but how? Or better said, let’s start with “who?”.

The Whipcrackers are a group of people from the south of Bavaria, specifically in the foothills of the Alps, in the calm and tranquil village of Saaldorf-Surheim. This place is not always so quiet, in fact, there is a specific time in the year when the village is surrounded by a loud cracking noise that erupts, followed by repeated lashings of the whip. Can you guess who are they? Well of course the Whipcrackers, a group of men standing in a row, apart from each other with their 3-meter-long whips.

Although we said this is a silent place, but this is broken when the whips are in the air, creating a harmonious melody that is made from the Goaßln – of the “Aperschnalzer”, or whipcrackers.

This unique activity is a tradition, but not a new one. In fact, is a really old one, which dates back to the pre-Christian times. Whipcracking was a widespread practice in these parts. The mythology has been preserved to the present day and is celebrated anew each year. And even if it’s that old, it is still done nowadays in the Alps.

Now you are going to ask “when” does this happen … well the answer is simple, the whips are between Christmas and Lent. And before you ask yourself “why” here is a bit of history:

It is no secret that winters are hard, even more in the mountain regions, when the cold is so strong that you feel it in your bones and the darkness seems to last forever. Plus the fact that centuries ago they didn’t have electric heating or even electricity contributed to the tough winters. The people from the region felt relieved when this time would come to an end. Here is when the Whipcrackers came to the rescue, it is believed that with their whips they would speed the process and finally the warm months would come to them.

Alright, now let’s move on to the next question, “who” can become a whipcracker? Well, I am sorry to crash your dreams. But you must be born in a whipcracker family, since this tradition is passed and done from generation to generation. The children of the village are born with this custom, meaning that since a young age they are involved and are looking forward to, when they grow up becoming one of the whipcrackers.

We have come all this way to finalize this with a last question, “what” is the tradition like nowadays? Well same as what it was decades ago. But at the same time, now there is a competition, where 1,700 whipcrackers from the Salzburg and Bavarian region meet up in order to compete in front of a large audience and be crowned as the greatest Whipcracker.

In the website http://www.schnalzen.de/ you can find when are the next competitions if you fancy to witness this unique tradition and make your ears delight with the music made from the whips.

Juana Sosa
Author: Juana Sosa

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