Anyone traveling in Vorarlberg on the first weekend after Ash Wednesday will be surprised to see burning towers and imposant fires everywhere. In Bürs, Brandnertal, luminous lanterns are even carried through the village. Top hat and tailcoat wearing "Funkabuaba" march festively through the village - at the end a blazing fire is lit.
The traditional "Funkenabbrennen" (burning of the sparks) is an ancient Swabian-Alemannic tradition, the origin is not completely clear. Some may think that the burning of wooden towers and witch dolls is a remnant of the terrible witch burnings in early modern times, but this is a misconception! The origins of the fires can be found, on the one hand, in ancient pagan fertility rites with sacrificial fires, and on the other hand, in the end of the Swabian-Alemannic "Fastnacht" and the beginning of Carnival. In Vorarlberg, the practice of "Funken" has a long tradition; in almost every community, a spark fire is organized by the local spark guild, the local fire department or the carnival guilds. In 2010, Vorarlberg's "Funkensonntag" was even included in the world cultural heritage.
Every year on "Funkensonntag" (Sunday of the weekend), the so-called "Funkentanne" is lit. This is a piled wooden tower, consisting of collected materials, such as old Christmas trees. According to popular belief, the spark is supposed to drive away winter and ignite happiness. As a symbol of the beginning of spring is the winter witch, which is attached to the top of the spark. It is usually prepared with black powder so that it can explode in the fire. Once the spark is lit, the spark master gets nervous... not without reason! He waits for the witch to explode - if it does not, it must be buried the next day.
In Vorarlberg, "Funkensonntag" has a second name: "Küachlisunntig" - here the name says it all! The delicious little cakes from yeast dough, refined with powdered sugar, not only make the hearts of the spark guild members beat faster. Eating "Funkaküachli" is a must during a visit to the Funken - and if you can't get enough of it, you can easily bake the pastry at home - here's the recipe.
There are numerous exciting customs surrounding the "Funken", which are carried out differently in each valley - even in the individual villages.
In the village of Bürs there is a very special tradition that is carried on from generation to generation: the Puma. Bürs Puma, however, have nothing to do with their namesakes the Pumas, the name comes rather from the word "Pumerantscha", which means oranges. Puma are lanterns, which are, in their original, round shaped and look like oranges. On "Funkensonntag" they are decorated with candles and carried festively through the village in the Puma procession. And when the Pumas are not illuminating Bürs, they slumber in Roland Rettenberger's attic. Roland Rettenberger is the so-called "Puma Master". He keeps 47 different specimens, which are put on display every year. His family has been preserving and restoring the pumas for generations. The lanterns come in round shapes, rectangular lanterns or large "box pumas". The motifs of the Puma are cut out of cardboard, backed with colored transparent paper and glued on a wooden frame. The oldest Puma is "Genoveva" from 1892.
In Bürserberg and in Brand the sparking tower is not built with pallets and Christmas trees as in other communities. The special construction method of the "Funken" has been a tradition for many years. Logs are stacked far up into the air without using a single nail or other fasteners.
In Bürserberg, the fir wood is already straightened and piled up in the previous year so that it dries properly. In the middle of the tower, the 20m high spark fir is erected, which is first encased with small round logs as a pedestal. The dry logs are then piled up in an octagon on the pedestal, and finally a fir brushwood is placed on top as a cover. In Bürserberg, wooden torches are also built with the school children, which they swing in the dark night sky before the sparks are lit. Afterwards, fireworks are shot into the night sky and the spark tower is ignited.
Vorarlberg Tourismus, Wikipedia, UNESCO Funkensonntag, Funkenzunft Brand, Funkenzunft Bürserberg, Funkenzunft Bürs, Gemeinde Bürserberg, https://cdn3.vol.at/2008/03/Infos_funken.pdf, https://www.vol.at/einzigartige-funken-tradition-in-vorarlberg-die-puma-von-buers/5170142, https://www.vol.at/funkenabbrennen-mit-feuerwerk/3481177, Informationen von Gemeinde Bürserberg, Roland Rettenberger
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