Saturday, September 22, 2012

Markgröningen Shepherd's Run

I was on my way home one day walking down the stairs in the metro station when I spotted this ad on the wall:

I had no idea what the ad was for but the girls in the traditional, southern-German clothing looking like they were running towards me got my attention. Since I'm always on the lookout for unusual stuff to take pictures of and learn about, I snapped a photo and went home to look at the website listed at the bottom of the ad. What I found got me a little too excited...if you know what I mean...

The ad was for the annual Markgröningen Schäferlauf, which is a Schäferlauf (shepherd's run) festival in a small town near Stuttgart named Markgröningen. I still had very little idea what would take place there but, once again, the pictures of chicks in old-fashioned clothes racing was just too much.

So the big day arrived and we headed out to scenic Markgröningen, and, yes, that's really the town's name, for the BIG event!

Some of the locals anticipating the big event of the day (the sheep too):

The Schäferlauf is the oldest Heimatfest (folk festival) in Baden-Würtemburg (the state where Stuttgart is located). The origins of the festival are unknown but it's believed to have originated with a local shepherd's guild in Markgröningen during the Middle Ages. The first mention of the festival was in the mid-1400s but it wasn't until almost 1600 when details as to the event's activities were recorded. Today's Schäferlauf is basically unchanged since 1651 -- 361 years!!!. While researching the event, I found these old photos from 1963 that could have been taken the day we were there.

The event takes place on the final weekend in August and lasts for four days. We went on Saturday and the day started with a parade from the center of town out to the arena where the races and other festivities take place. I had a hard time following all of the German but this photo, taken at the festival grounds, was towards the beginning while they were explaining and performing some of the history of the event:

There were several different races for different age groups. There was a sack race for kids where they were pursued by police officers (no, I don't know why):

The next event was a group dance where young couples danced a traditional dance in a circle. Each couple would stop under a cup of water that was placed on a small platform suspended from a large, decorated pole. They would boost their partner up to try to knock the cup over with their head. The whole group went through two times with the girls being lifted on the first pass and the guys on the second. I'm not 100% sure but I think that, overall, the girls did better than the guys in lifting their partners up. It's seeing scenes like this that causes me to "remember" that I'm living in southern Germany and, like David Byrne, ask myself "how did I get here?".

They had races for pretty much everyone except middle-aged guys from the United States (me) including one for sexy older women who had to carry buckets of water on their heads while they ran from one end of the field to the other. Ummm, it's impossible to tell from the photos but trust me when I say that these women were running very fast. I was blown away!

Finally, it was time for the highlight of the day...local chicks in old-fashioned clothes running barefooted across a field! Woohoo! Awesome!!!

The final two races (the teenage girls and the teenage boys) seemed like some kind of Middle-Ages fertility right of passage. The winners of each race were crowned as the king and queen of the event and got to be the honorees for the remainder of the event. Survival of the fittest anyone?

Right after the king and queen were crowned, they were positioned at one end of the arena and were honored by what I can only describe as a dance of extreme endurance. Sixteen young couples from the Schäfertanz dance group performed a 15-minute "running-style" dance. They were dressed in trad clothes and basically ran full speed in circles for the whole time. In no way am I saying that it was bad. No, actually it was very well done and I have a ton of respect for their ability to kick ass for the entire 15-minute-long pageant.

The event in the arena lasted a little less than two hours before everyone involved headed back into the center of town in one large parade. Markgröningen is a scenic little town about 30 minutes (via train) north of Stuttgart. It has a bunch of half-timber buildings and small, winding streets. During the Schäferlauf, booths and places to eat are setup all over the center of town. In the main plaza different groups performed on a stage.

A video showing Markgröningen's main plaza and one of the band's musical performance:

Living in Barcelona spoiled me. Pretty much every weekend there's a festival or three taking place somewhere in the city. I've really missed that while living here in Stuttgart. Well, the Markgröningen Schäferlauf was hands-down the best event that I've been to since moving to Germany six months ago. The town is lovely. The event was interesting, fun, and well organized. I can't say enough good things about it. I need to keep my eyes open for more posters in the metro I guess!

Oh, and thanks to Kijung for spending another fun-filled day with Diana and me. A photo of the three of us and Markgröningen's main plaza taken from the church-tower viewing platform:

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