FOOLS MUSEUM - NIGGELTURM
Fools Tower of the Black Forest
visiting Gengenbach and the Fools Museum in the medieval tower
and hearing of the Fools Guilds of Swabia and Alemannic, the first
thoughts which pop into the head - I didn’t know jesters had
unions – or are there still jesters if there are no kings left?
But the instinct of custom and language would be amiss. The fools
here in question to be found in the Niggel Tower (Niggelturm)
of this lovely town of the Black Forest are of the “5th Season” Carnival
variety of the pre-Lent celebrations.
Every year, on a Saturday, three and a half weeks before Ash Wednesday the town is awakened by the Hemdeglunker, the “Rogue”, the main character of Gengenbach Fasend who lives in the tower. Inspired by a legendary peasants uprising in the Swabian War of 1499, a few thousand residents of Gengenbach, celebrants of this particular version of carnival season, gather at the town train station dressed in white nightgowns and head through the streets of the old city to the foot of the tower where calls of “s'isch Fasendszit” accompanied by drums ,“Klapperle” noise makers and a blaze of fireworks lighting the tower to awake the rogue fool who ceremoniously climbs to the balustrade on the top and waves happily to the mob below. Then, he descends to the bottom and delivers his annual traditional poem, and takes the keys of the city from the town mayor to begin the three and half weeks of the “fascination” carnival when the Spättlehansel witches and other characters signified by wooden masks and costumes take over the town.
The Niggelturm is one of five watch towers, spread along the old city walls which stood guard around the medieval town. Gengenbach has been called “a pearl among the Black Forest towns” and one of the romantic picturesque villages of the foothills of the central Swabia region of southwest Germany. The first Benedictine Abbey was founded in in Gengenbach in 725. Gengenbach was granted status as a free Imperial City under King Charles IV in the 14th Century when the town was walled for protection and the watch towers built. The town suffered in the unrest of the Protestant Reformation and the Tower inscribed in 1582 with the motto, “The city that keeps its eye toward God and trusts in him will be well. Its residents not robbed”. Though that didn't keep the town from being plundered during the Thirty Years War and the nearly burned to the ground by the forces of France’s King Louis XIV in the War of Palatine Succession in 1689 (see Castle Heidelberg).
The Niggelturm tower itself is 118 feet high and to reach the top takes a climb of 132 steps, each one under the watchful eye of a witch or a fool tucked into the stone corners and perches among the rafters. The Niggleturm tower was originally built about 1366, with later reconstructions and additions, with the lower earlier portion topped by the distinctive octagonal cap in the 1582 reconstruction. The Fools Museum (Narrenmuseum) inside the tower is seven levels of the costumes and traditions of the Fasend festivities. Wide google eyes, long hooked noses and ragged gapped teeth of the Hästräger, the witches, old women and farmers, gathered in displays looking on the stairway. Visitors can follow the Rogue’s climb up the stairs to the top walkway with views out over the city and the surrounding wooded hills of the Black Forest.
Visiting the Fools Museum of Gengenbach Niggelturm
If you miss the Fasend, the museum is open April through October Wednesday and Saturday 2pm to 5pm and Sunday 11am to 5pm. Admission is €2.50 for adults and 1€ for children. Be aware that the museum involves climbing the stairs. And yes, there is a union for fools, the Association of Swabian-Alemannic Fools' Guilds formed of 69 guilds from 68 towns in Baden-Wurttemberg, Swabian Bavaria and Switzerland (see Carnival Masks Lucerne) which maintain the characters, costumes and tradition of the carnival festivals. © Bargain Travel Europe
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