Thursday, March 10, 2011

Stréimännchen 2011: The Video Recap

Every year on Ash Wednesday, the town of Remich holds an event called Stréimännchen. It’s a celebration that marks the end of the Carnival season, but is also a ritual held to chase away the winter and welcome in the spring. Stréimännchen is Luxembourgish for “straw man” (in leap years it’s a Stréifrächen, a straw woman), which is what Remichers carry through the streets of town and to the top of the bridge that crosses the Moselle River and connects Luxembourg with Germany, where the straw man is then lit ablaze.

It’s a celebration that is unique to Remich and was very cool to be part of; I highly recommend adding it to your calendar for next year if you’ve never been. But in the meantime, here’s a show-and-tell to give you a feel for the event:

My evening began at Café Michels – also known as Café beim Feusend – on a hill at the top of town just off Rue de la Gare. When I arrived just shortly after 7pm, the sidewalks around the café were already buzzing with excitement; a few musicians had gathered with their tubas and flutes, important-looking people in top hats worked the crowd and gave interviews to the two television cameras that had arrived, and parents did their best to keep their excited children from running into the street.

I had a little time to spare before the procession was scheduled to depart at 7:30pm, so I popped inside the café with the rest of town to warm up. It was a cozy spot with homey decorations on the walls, like a plaque that read Un jour sans vin, un jour sans soleil. I agreed, so I ordered a glass of Luxembourg crémant while I waited.

At 7:30pm, about thirty children joined hands and took their places facing each other in two lines, forming a chute. The top-hatted officials lit their torches, the marching band aligned into formation and then, the Stréimännchen appeared. He wore gray slacks and dark shoes, a collared button-down shirt with a necktie, a light khaki jacket and a matching fisherman’s hat. His head was a plastic mask that held some kind of flashlight behind the eyes (so he could “see” all of us guilty folk who were about to cheer on his demise, I suppose) and his body was stuffed with straw. From his left arm hung an empty bottle of crémant, and from his right hung an empty wallet. (I’m assuming these items were sacrificed with the straw man to encourage a prosperous harvest and financial year for this winemaking town.)

As the band struck up, the two lines of children sprang to action, skipping in circles and swirls ahead of the procession as it began:

Everyone is invited to participate in the procession, and as it turns out, there’s no real rhyme or reason to it – as a participant, you might walk ahead of the straw man, alongside him, or behind him and his band, it doesn’t matter. Everyone is just there for the fun of being there with everyone else. And, although the parade began being “led” by swirling, dancing, hand-holding children; the further we descended the hill through Remich the older the swirling, hand-holding dancers became, as teenagers and adults joined the fun. 

There were two places along the route where things got exciting. The first was at Rue Wenkel. The straw man was spun round and round and the hand-holding dancers followed his lead, working themselves into a frenzied mass that circled the Stréimännchen. It happened so quickly that I even got stuck inside the dancing circle for a few minutes! But thankfully, I found an opening and ducked out in time to take some video:

Then, we continued down the hill to the marching band’s repeating cheerful tune and drum line. The torch-carriers reloaded on the go, keeping their flames brightly lit. We reached the end of the hill and turned down the esplanade toward the bridge, passing several restaurants along the Moselle River with lovely outdoor terraces that held patrons snapping photos of the Stréimännchen and his large procession as we passed.

We turned a corner and finally, reached the base of the bridge. For the Stréimännchen’s final moments, the crowd – which had grown quite large by this point, filling the intersection shoulder to shoulder – worked itself into another dancing frenzy around the spinning straw man. Residents gathered to watch in their open windows and cell phone cameras burned almost brighter than the torches as everyone craned to get some good footage…probably to go home and blog about, like me.

And then, it was finally time: the straw man had to meet his fiery fate. Slowly, we moved onto the bridge, and the drummers set a slow, ominous beat:

(I didn’t catch it in the video, but one woman even faked loud sobs for the poor Stréimännchen on our way toward the middle of the bridge!)

After our slow climb to the top, we reached the middle of the bridge. And then, as if someone had reminded them that this straw guy was being sacrificed for the happy occasion of spring and a bountiful season ahead, the band struck up a cheerful, festive tune as the leader of the procession tied his straw man to the railing on the bridge.

Then, the Stréimännchen was doused in lighter fluid:

 And set on fire:

When he had more or less burnt to a crisp, the wire attaching him to the bridge railing was cut. Then, the poor Stréimännchen fell to his final end in the Moselle River:

And then the crowd dispersed and went home. Happy springtime, everyone!

1 comment:

  1. I just watched the videos again because they were so bizarre! It's crazy how many different festivals and parades they celebrate in Europe! Keep the entries coming - they're very entertaining!