Monday, May 21, 2018

On May 28th, the City of Hof will hold its 586th Schlappentag

The most distinctive feature of Hof, Germany, located at the top of East Bavaria, is its annual Hofer Schlappentag. This year on May 28, it will hold its 586th celebration to mark that day.
Sign advertising Schlappentag, showing the wooden
shoes (Schlappen) and the special Schlappenbier
Before explaining what the Hofer Schlappentag is and why it has been around for more than half a millennium, I want to mention some other notable features of this hilly city of 48,000 people that sits on the banks of the Saale River. An important one is its location. Following World War II, after Germany was divided into sectors, Hof was a border town in the American Zone. Across the border was the Russian Zone, which in 1949 became the German Democratic Republic. 

From that time until 1990, Hof was on the front lines of the Cold War, facing a heavily fortified border. Its train station was full of relieved travelers who had successfully weathered the ordeal of passing from East to West Germany, and stressed passengers who were about to undergo the indignities attended upon travelers who wished to enter the DDR. 

Another important aspect of Hof’s location is that it lies a few miles distant from the western finger of Bohemia that probes into Germany big southeastern belly. This part of Bohemia, now in the Czech Republic, is a narrow peninsula surrounded on three sides by the ocean of Germany. For decades, until 1917, it was part of the Austrian-Hungarian Empire, and a large percentage of its residents had a Germanic heritage and spoke German. After WWI, it became part of Czechoslovakia. (On the map above, the peninsula is located in the western part of the Cheb region, which is in the far west of the Czech Republic. Hof is a few miles north of the top of the peninsula.) 
Hof Center Center, with St. Mary's Church
The boundaries and ethnic makeup of the Bohemians in this isolated peninsula caused few problems until the early 1930s. Then, some Germans – adherents of the Nazi Party -- living there and in neighboring parts of Bohemia started complaining of mistreatment by Czechoslovakians, demanding to be brought into the German Reich.  Their rabble rousing provided one of the flimsy excuses Hitler used to justify sending the German army into Czechoslovakia in 1939. When the 1000-year Reich was disassembled in 1945, Czechoslovakia – under the guidance of the Soviet Union – expelled all ethnic Germans from the Sudetenland (including the peninsula), even those whose families that had lived there for centuries and who had not supported the Nazis.  Many of those expelled settled nearby in cities such as Hof and Marktredwitz and in the land surrounding them.
Hof City Center
(One city in the Czech peninsula is named Aš  [in German, Asch], and it is a thirty-minute ride from Hof on a slow train. From Asch and surrounding area, about 27 persons from the Reichardt, Geyer, Penzel, and Wunderlich families emigrated to Little Rock from 1848 to 1856, where many became prominent citizens. But that is another story.)

Detail for Hof's Turnhalle 
Present-day Hof is a pleasant city with the distinctive architecture of Eastern Bavaria that features multi-story buildings of different colors standing next to each other. Also it has a welcoming city center, anchored, as expected, by the largest and oldest church in town. The city center offers, among its mixture of businesses, two large book store. It is a pedestrian zone, so many restaurants offer outdoor seats from which to watch the parade of Hofers. Scattered about the center city are men and women (known locally as Wärschtlamo) with brass cauldrons filled with hot coals to boil wursts for hungry patrons.  

It is in the city center that much of the Schlappentag celebration takes place. The story of Schalppentag begins in January 25, 1430. On that sad day, Hof was attacked by Hussites, who easily routed the Hofers, who apparently did not put up much a fight. After the Hussites ransacked the town and moved on, the pitiable Hofers came to beg the Prince of Brandenburg for relief from taxes they owed him. They had nothing they could pay. The Prince was a bit irked, but granted ten years of relief from taxes with the condition that the Hofers would arm themselves and prepare to defend the city in the future.

Wurst seller with his brass Cauldron 

They agreed to the condition, and in 1432, the city government required its healthy male residents, most of whom were tradesmen, to join the protection guard and attend at least one instructional session on musket shooting a year.  As time passed, the protection guard members grew less enthusiastic about their annual training requirement, but continued to show up to avoid paying a fine. Many men put off the training until the last day possible, the first Monday after Trinity Sunday (which falls in late May or the first part of June). In 2018, Trinity Sunday is May 27th.

At first, only a dozen or so men, wearing their work clothes and wooden work shoes (clogs), known as Schlappen, walked down the street as the work day began to the indoor shooting range for their instruction. They would wait their turn for their musket-shooting lesson.

Over time, more of the men waited until the Monday deadline for completing training, and they would meet up to walk together to the shooting range, clopping down the street in their wood shoes. Finally it became a tradition for most of the protection guard to march together early on Trinity Monday to receive their training.

So on May 28, 2018, Hofers, joined by other volunteers in wooden shoes, will form for the 586th time a marching line and proceed through the city to the training site. That re-creation of the long tradition is followed, I understand, by many opportunities for merriment, especially if you enjoy beer, because that day – and only on that day -- an especially strong locally brewed beer – Schlappenbier – can be sold in the city. By tradition, however, the beer cannot be sold to visiting Hussites,. 

For pictures and videos from previous Schlappentag celebrations (in German), see: