This is Tim’s story, really. I’ve been a ([largely] supportive, amused, bemused and frequently jealous) bystander throughout the experience. It started after last year’s Fasnacht, when an always-enthusiastic Tim got chatting to colleagues at his office about the festival. It turned out one of them plays trumpet in a local Guggenmusik band. Tim is also a trumpeter, and it was suggested that he might be able to play along in the festival the following year.
Firstly, the band had to agree he could join. Although some members come from slightly further afield, the majority are Luzerners and certainly there were no other foreigners. He then had to audition, something which inspired more than a few nerves as it had been many years since he had picked up his horn. He left, trumpet strapped to his back as he cycled to the bunker where the band rehearsed, while I waited at home nervously on his behalf. The hours passed and eventually I went to sleep. He rolled in well after 2am reeking of beer and cigars and declared the audition a success despite having not played a note. Turns out as long as he could booze with them, the band were down with the foreigner joining.
Rehearsals started in earnest last September, held weekly. The first few sessions had Tim feeling a little glum: there was no music as everyone played by ear, the names of the traditional tunes were long forgotten, and the conversing and instruction was all in Swiss German. However as the weeks went by it started falling into place and he would come home from practice with increasing enthusiasm as his skills grew (other than the Swiss German. Still haven’t even remotely nailed that). My nerves increased in line with my due date – there was no mobile reception in that bunker – but little Teddy didn’t interrupt his father’s hobby and was rewarded with the band filming a tri-language rendition of ‘Happy Birthday’ to welcome him, and celebrate his sister’s birthday.
The costume was the next hurdle. The band had a Venetian theme and he needed both a coherent outfit as well as the traditional style of Fasnacht mask. The costume was sourced at a local Fasnacht speciality store, the staff happily knowing Tim’s band’s theme and being able to ensure he wasn’t out of place. The band’s conductor makes masks, and Tim had several fittings of the sculpted fibreglass headpiece, choosing eye colour, final touches and hair style (which I somewhat cruelly mocked, given his current choice is ‘bald’). The finished mask arrived about two weeks before the festival and sat in pride of place in our living room, prompting Addie to wander around declaring ‘Daddy’s mask’s scary‘ on a regular basis. To be honest, I couldn’t argue.
Finally, the week prior to lent arrived and with it, the festival. The schedule for Fasnacht is gruelling. Starting on Dirty Thursday, Tim played from the official cannon shot at 5am through till one the following morning, with similar shifts again on Saturday, Monday and Tuesday. His group follows the tradition of the early Fasnacht bands, marching the catacombe-like streets of the Luzern Altstadt playing, and popping into local restaurants to serenade diners with their tunes.
Marching the cobbled, bustling streets of the city while trumpeting in an oversized mask is, apparently, tricky business.
Luckily, the rest of the band were old hands and made sure Tim was well-fuelled for the task.
Let’s drop the euphemism: by well-fuelled of course I mean drunk. In between playing sessions they hung out at the band’s stand which converted into a bar. The day started with beers, progressed through wine to gin and tonics, and then when someone needed a pick-me-up, espresso grappa shots. It was little wonder their audition process was so exacting.
Tim’s dad had travelled from Australia for the festival, having been here last year and falling for its bawdy charm. Himself a trumpet player (it’s genetic, clearly) Mike became the band’s groupie at first and then joined them on the final few days as an honorary ring-in, making his trip quite the experience. I confess that as much as I love my two littles, I also love festivals and day drinking, and holding the fort while the lads had a ball was at times hard. Luckily, the kids and I made it down a few times to experience the hullaballoo.
Fasnacht was weird and wild and the streets were pumping throughout the day and night (and provided me with some good ‘here’s what happens if you don’t eat your vegetables’ material).
And of course, I did my best to make up for lost party time.In a country where we’d been warned the locals were not particularly welcoming, and that it would be hard to make meaningful Swiss connections, Tim feels so fortunate to have shared this crazy experience with a bunch of people who he now calls friends (or at the very least, epic drinking buddies). The hospitality was extended to me and the kids as well as Tim’s dad, making a week that will be remembered for years to come (even if said memory is sightly beer and grappa hazy).
(Also, that’s our baby’s rattle Tim’s a-shaking there. Nothing but the best instruments for our family.)