"A Little Step into Loetschental" Bern Travelogue by Zisch
Bern Travel Guide: 595 reviews and 1,830 photos
To me, it always seems like an endless journey, the trip to Lötschental. Leaving Bern behind me and travelling to Thun, then as the lake of Thun disappears behind me and the train moves steadily upwards until it stops at Kandersteg but then moves through the darkness of the Lötschberg tunnel revealing at the end of it, the grey and chill of Goppenstein. Why would anyone want to get out at the forlorn place?
Lot's of reasons - take a look and surprise yourself.
My fascination with Lötschental started one my first trip there almost 4 years ago. We - my partner and I - arrived in the dark at Goppenstein and it was a bitterly cold December evening. I remembered all the dreadful summers I had spent in the mountains in Berner Oberland and was dreading every minute of being away from Bern.
We took the Post bus from Goppenstein to Kippel - a interesting experience, seeing as the bus is broad but the road isn't and the fall from the cliff side is needless to say,long.
The next morning, I got up early and was greeted by the sun rising behind the mountains. The village was still quiet and lay in a blanket of endless snow.
It is winter and the night draws near,you are all alone.
In the narrow allyways you hear the eerie sound of bells ringing out and you need to flee
But where should you go?
You hear the sound of muffled feet stamping their way towards you, warm breath reaches your neck -
do not turn around, just run, they are here.
Dressed in their cloaks of animal hides, covering their faces in masks, they make their way through the streets and villages bringing fear in their wake.
Be afraid, have respect and never ask who they are - the Tschäggättä are here.
Well, I did warn you, didn't I..
The Tschäggättä of Lötschtal are a breed of their own. For those who are unfamiliar with Swiss traditions, it is nescessary to say that every year the carnival season, or Fasnacht, takes a grip of the country, starting sometime in November and ending with the most popular Fasnacht of all in Basel.
The origins of Fasnacht itself are not really clear though the popular train of thought is that it is related to heathen tradition of frightening away the winter to bring in the spring.
In Lötschental, they have their own way of celebrating.
Along with the usual carnival attrapments of bands (Guggemusik)all dressed in wild costumes, of parades and floats, the Tsäggättä bring something of a sinister note into the festivities. They make their appearance between the 2nd of February and Ash Wednesday.
Now, I shall attempt to explain what this is all about.
Depending on who you speak to and I can only quote the grandmother of my partner (whose family is from Kippel, dating back to the 17th century) - her explaination is thus:
The Tschäggättä are the so called Wild Men - a group of thieves who used to dress themselves up in frightening costumes to make their chose profession a little easier which would put their origins back to the 12th century.
Another explaination is that they are the relics of an ancestor worship cult - symbolising the return of the ancestors to give out praise or punishment to the living.
ON THE OTHER HAND...
The Tschägättä come from the heathen tradition of scaring away the spirits of winter.
What is known for sure is that they are not under any circumstances reglemented or organized.
They are just there, appearing and disappearing when the time is right.
The Tschägättä are unique to Lötschental. The masks they wear are carved locally and are a part of local culture. Though there have been some changes in what they can and cannot do, the most interesting is their walk through the valley at night, in a group of 90 to 120. They have no sympathy to tourists and if you happen to be a person who does not find the idea of bing set upon by a large figure dressed in animal hide, a frightening wooden mask and ringing a large cowbell- I have also seen them brandishing rather big sticks - amusing, then you will not have an easy time. They are around all day and in most places all night, in the restaurants, on the streets, sometimes even on ski slopes.
Yet this is what makes it so interesting. The Lötschentaler Tschägättä are, in their spontainity, allowing for the continuation of a very old tradition - obeying rules only known to them - making Fasnacht in Lötschental an experience you will never forget.
Due to the partial inaccessability of Lötschental it has remained in a world of its own and every walk into the mountains is living encounter with old traditions.
The classic walk which will bring you closer to this natural world, is the Lötschentaler ridge path between Fafleralp and Lauchernalp on the sunny side of the valley, giving you a wonderful view of the Bietschhorn mountain chain. The beginning of the walk can be easily reached by Postauto (to Fafleralp) then follow the way (at abourt 2000m) to Lauchernalp where a cable car makes the descent to Wiler easy. Of course you can start at Lauchernalp and walk to Fafleralp. It is not a difficult walk and takes about 2 1/2 hours.
For maps and other information, you can contact the tourisum office in Wiler: Dorfstrasse, 3918 Wiler.
027 938 88 88
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