Fasnacht: a brief history
If you’ve been here for a while, you know the drill: every year right before Lent the whole of Luzern lets its hair down for a new Fasnacht. The official kick-off happens at around four in the morning on Fat Thursday (this year of February 8th) an explosion of fireworks (Urknall) as a boat carries the entire Fristchi family from the KKL to the other side of the shore at Schwanenplatz. They are greeted by the “Fristchi Vater” and Zunftmeister (sort of like the master of ceremony), and amongst a heavy rain of confetti (fötzeliräge), they officially get the party started.
But who are the mythical figures in charge of the honourable task of giving cue to the celebrations? As it turns out, Bruder Fritschi is an imaginary character created by the Zunft zu Safran, one of the oldest guilds of Luzern. The character is supposed to be based on an unknown soldier called Fridolin, who allegedly helped the confederates win the Battle of Ragaz against the Habsburgs during the Old Zurich War on March 6th 1446. After the victory, “Fridolin’s day” was established and later on celebrated the same day as Fat Thursday.
Around 1600 brother Fritschi was seen for the first time with his wife “Fritschene” and their baby. However it was not until the 18th century that the other characters (the nanny, the clown, the buffoon and the farmers) joined the merry clan.
Although in the early days Bruder Fritschi was only a straw puppet with a costume, this tradition changed: now every year the guild chooses who will have the honour to pose as the legendary Fridolin. This is not a “danger-free job”, believe it or not, Fritschi has been “kidnapped” on more than one occasion. By whom? None other than the cheeky Baslers!
In 1508 Basel’s mayor made it all the way to Luzern, retrieved the, at the time, straw doll Bruder Fritschi and invited the locals to go to Basel to recover it. A few months later 150 people showed up to claim the freedom of their “brother” which was granted amongst celebrations.
In 2008 another playful kidnapping was staged: this time the Fritschi was robbed in the middle of the Fasnacht, put in a glass cage hanging from a helicopter and flown all the way to Basel. In September that same year, 500 Luzerners showed up in Basel for yet another party where “Fridolin” was once more safely returned home, hopefully for many Fasnachts to come!