Hansel and Gretel's witch may be toast, but strange and scary creatures still roam the hinterlands of Germany. In the rural villages of the south, the Eifel Mountains of the west, and Thuringia in the east, Christian holidays are marked by festivals revolving around centuries-old folk characters, such as the Advent "Buttnmandl" who stomps and growls his way through Berchtesgaden in the Bavarian Alps to chase away the demons of winter and woe to the child who tries to steal some of his lucky straw. Or the leafy "Pfingstkäs," a cone-shaped figure whose Pentecost parade through Breisgau in the Black Forest celebrates the rebirth of Christ and of the earth. Some historians believe these folk characters have pagan roots, while others think they originated in medieval courtiers' games. Gradually, they were adopted by the church, and now blend religious and agrarian themes. Since 1997, ethnologist and photographer Markus Bullik has been capturing these wild spirits, many unknown outside their own communities, in a pictorial documentary, Folk Figures of the Village Society. A book and exhibitions of his photographs, in collaboration with Hamburg's Museum of Ethnology, are scheduled for 2000-2001. If you go, be sure to leave a trail of bread crumbs.
By Suzanne Crawford