Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Peter Piper Picked a Peck of Péckvillercher (Éimaischen 2011)

My souvenir péckvillercher.
Easter Monday is a national holiday throughout most of Europe. But on this day in Luxembourg Ville, every year, tens of thousands of birds of all colors and shapes invade the city and chirp away without end. With a little human help, that is, since the birds are actually ceramic whistles called péckvillercher.

The celebration is a uniquely Luxembourgish festival called Éimaischen…a festival that I also like to think of as the official kickoff to sausage and beer truck season. (Sausage and beer trucks are common staples of Luxembourgish festivals that you’ll be seeing me mention regularly in the coming months.)

This year was our second Éimaischen and so far, the best. Last year, Nick and I wore winter coats and froze our fingers tasting our very first mettwurst, but this year we enjoyed loads of sunshine, much warmer temperatures, and the company of our friends Ashleigh and Scott, who drove up from Switzerland to spend Easter weekend with us.

History of Éimaischen
The village of Nospelt is a town in Luxembourg known for its historic role as center of the ceramics industry in the Grand Duchy. In its pottery-making prime (1458 to 1914), Nospelt was a haven for potters and at its peak in the 1820s, there were 17 pottery studios located here. Every year, the Aülebackers (potters) from Nospelt and surrounding areas would gather in Luxembourg Ville at Saint Michael’s church to hold an annual Easter Monday potters’ guild feast. After the feast, the potters would sell their wares at an annual market, Emmaüs-Maart, which later developed into what is now called Éimaischen. (The original name, Emmaüs-Maart, was a seasonal reminder of the appearance of a resurrected Jesus Christ in Luke 24:13-27 to two disciples walking from Jerusalem to the village of Emmaüs.*)

The péckvillercher (bird whistles) that have made Éimaischen so popular were created from bits of potters’ clay left over at the end of the day, which were shaped into whistles that looked like birds. Light and easy to transport, they quickly became a best-seller and highlight of the Emmaüs-Maart pottery market.

While the exact origin of Éimaischen remains a bit of a mystery, the pottery market has existed for at least over 180 years in Luxembourg Ville. The first reference to the festival was first made in an 1827 letter from the town police commissioner, suggesting the Easter Monday pottery market be moved away from its location outside the Saint Michael’s church and closer to the fish market (today’s Ilôt Gastronomique), so the noise from happy children attending the market would not interrupt mass.

Éimaischen continued for many years but stopped temporarily during World War I. The festival eventually resumed after the war, but with much less enthusiasm…that is, until 1937, when the Comité Alstad was formed by a number of residents who wanted to revive and preserve this unique tradition. The festival grew and eventually came to be celebrated on Easter Monday in both the streets surrounding the old fish market of Luxembourg Ville, and since 1957, in Nospelt; a nod to its pottery making heritage.

Though the heyday of pottery-making in Nospelt has long since passed, you can still learn all about its history at the Musée de la Poterie. The museum is housed in the studio of Nospelt’s last potter, Nicolas Schneider, who closed his shop in 1914. (Follow the link and call before you go, I think the museum operates on a fairly limited schedule.)

Éimaischen Today
Collectors' péckvillercher.
These days, Éimaischen is a colorful festival full of vendors selling péckvillercher at a wide range of prices and designs, from less expensive birds that look homemade to more polished designs that have become pricey annual collectors’ items, to those that sell for bargain rates that were quite possibly manufactured at a factory in China.

Among the bird whistles for sale you’ll also find plenty of other stands sprinkled throughout town and packed into Place Guillaume. They sell handmade items from pottery to paintings to jewelry to artisanal honey, and everything in between. Other sellers hock used books and antiques. And then, of course, are the sausage and beer trucks, which you’ll spot in any direction you look – and which you absolutely must visit in order to say you’ve truly had a Luxembourgish festival experience.

It won’t surprise you one bit that Nick, Scott, Ashleigh and I checked all of the boxes on the list above. We feasted on mettwurst (juicy red smoked pork sausages) smothered in delicious moutarde de Luxembourg (another festival staple and really the only mustard you should eat in the Grand Duchy) and gromperekichelcher (seasoned, deep-fried potato pancakes served with apfelmus – applesauce – on request). While Nick and Scott kept watch to make sure we never strayed too far from a beer truck, Ashleigh and I purchased several items from craft vendors and hemmed and hawed over many a péckvillercher.

Ashleigh perfects playing
the péckvillercher.
Finally, we settled on bird whistles we thought would give our significant others the biggest headaches by the end of the day. And our choices didn’t disappoint! Suffice it to say that so far, Ashleigh has nearly perfected péckvillercher versions of “Happy Birthday” "Jingle Bells" and “Yankee Doodle Dandy” and is currently working on a rendition of Sir Mix-a-Lot’s “Baby Got Back.” (…Let’s just say that she won’t be quitting her day job any time soon.)

Mark your calendars now for next year’s Éimaischen, to be held on Monday, April 9, 2012 in both Luxembourg Ville and in Nospelt. And for a little further reading, check out the links below.

Click here to read the actual verses of Luke 24:13-27Or here for the Wikipedia rundown.

Link Roundup 

No comments:

Post a Comment