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The Astei Masks

From Nice to Creepy

- Nicholas and “Waldmandl” accompany the Sparifankerl Krampus in extraordinary Astei masks
- Unusual cooperation between sculptor and restorer produces works of art

Astei masks are works of extraordinary craftsmanship – and symbolize the revival of the classic Krampus Run tradition. Just as the Sparifankerl-Pass (Devil’s Group) from Munich are not interested in creating havoc but rather upholding historical traditions, the unique “larvae” from the Austrian Grossar Valley also stress historical style and forms. For over a decade the Sparifankerl-Pass Krampus have been outfitted with elaborate Astei masks. In the 2013 season the mask artists were responsible for the appearance of Nicholas and the Waldmandls.

The name Astei exemplifies the unusual cooperation between sculptor Rupert Kreuzer and restorer Gerhard Seer. Although they only use traditional materials such as stone pine and goat horns, the Astei masks are always exceptional. “It is true that the larvae are produced in a very traditional way,” explained Tom Bierbaumer, founder of the Sparifankerl-Pass. “Nevertheless, the result is absolutely unique – and not only among connoisseurs. The two men have found their very own style. Astei masks are recognizable at first glance.”

Instead of evoking the face of a devil or a dark legendary figure, the Astei larvae take on quite human traits. “You are reminded of very old women and men, not as distorted and exaggerated as many of the more common masks, but perhaps therefore all the more scary.” In the last season Astei had requests for less creepiness and more goodness in the facial expressions. That’s because for the winter of 2013/14 the Bavarian group’s Nicholas and Waldmandl, and not the Krampus, were outfitted by the woodcarver duo.

For many years Seer and Kreuzer have carved masks of various angels and Nicholas, in addition to dozens of Krampus and witch larvae. The reason: Originally, since the 15th century, the Krampus served as companions to holy St. Nicholas – just as did the famous Knecht Ruprecht in central and northern Germany. “We want to emphasize this traditional component during our runs because, unfortunately, it gets more and more forgotten,” said Bierbaumer. “Some Krampus groups abuse the traditions as an occasion to ‘let it all hang out’. We want to reconnect to the Krampus origins, but at the same time continue to develop and adapt the tradition to the times.”

The name Astei was derived from Astlhof in Grossarl, where the Kreuzer family lives. Together with Seer, they have produced Krampus masks for many years. Seer and Kreuzer came into contact early, through the tradition of the Krampus Runs. “Because this custom was maintained in our families, we have grown up with it since childhood,” remembers Seer. Both are today active in the Gomorra-Pass (Gomorra Group).

The resurrection of almost forgotten Bavarian rituals.
The group called “Sparifankerl-Pass” is successfully revitalising a historical tradition from the Alps region ...

Where can you see the Krampus and Perchten called the Sparifankerl Pass? Click more for the current list of events and performances at home and abroad ...