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CHRISTMAS

Here comes Santa Claus (with his satanic sidekicks)

Austrian financial adviser Ernst Eigner is ugly and scary. But only in his "Krampus" costume with red glowing eyes and horns to frighten naughty children and "evil spirits".

Here comes Santa Claus (with his satanic sidekicks)
Austrian financial adviser Ernst Eigner is ugly and scary. But only in his "Krampus" costume with red glowing eyes and horns to frighten naughty children and "evil spirits". Photo: AFP

His troupe is just one of an estimated 850, with 10,000 members around Austria marauding through towns and villages over the Christmas period in “Krampuslauf” parades.

“We are spreading the tradition of scaring away evil spirits,” Eigner told AFP as he donned his outfit before one such event in Schwadorf near Vienna.

“Just symbolically though of course,” he said, resplendent in his shaggy Roman centurion-cum-zombie costume, animal bones dangling here and there.

It starts off innocently, with Santa — or rather Saint Nicholas — giving out sweets. But fear is in the air because soon come his satanic sidekicks, dozens of them.

Wave after wave bound in, stomping around a roaring fire that sends sparks into the night sky, clanging cow bells attached to their backs and brandishing whips and blazing red flares.

With heavy metal blaring, the several hundred spectators in the market town watch behind safety barriers as the demonic creatures prowl around menacingly, leering at the public.

But apart from one tearful little girl, everyone has fun. The monsters high-five with kids as they slope off back to their lair — actually the local school — to get changed.

“We are trying to make it look brutal but our whips are only made of horse hair,” Eigner assures us. “People can hardly feel it if we hit them.”


Black angels and orcs

It's a booming trend, with ever more groups springing up to satisfy a seemingly insatiable demand, and not just in Austria but in southern Germany and further afield too.

One of Austria's biggest parades, in Schladming south of Salzburg, involves some 800 monsters and attracts 8,000 spectators paying 12-15 euros ($14-18) per adult.

Yet, while it may be inspired by past customs, the phenomenon has moved and evolved far beyond its supposed origins in the remote valleys of the Alps.

Head-to-hoof in dark fur with horns, a tail and a lolling red tongue, from the 16th century Krampus traditionally appeared on December 5th, the eve of Saint Nicholas Day.

“Children would be tested on religious knowledge by Saint Nicholas. He would reward them but couldn't punish them. That was Krampus's job,” ethnologist Helga Maria Wolf told AFP.

“Even into the 1960s, the pair would visit families on request,” she said.

“Perchten” meanwhile, figures of good and evil whose origins are possibly pagan, would emerge in early January or in the carnival season before Lent, the Christian period of fasting.

Traditional Perchten processions still exist, such as in Gastein in western Austria where 140 creatures from mythology and legend “drive out winter” every four years.

But in recent decades, Krampus and Perchten have merged into hybrids, incorporating other influences from horror movies to heavy metal music, and appearing from early November onwards.

In Schwadorf there was Death himself and an assortment of witches, monks, red-faced Satans, black angels and other beasts resembling “Lord of the Rings” orcs.

Confronting fears

Every Krampus season however, Austrian newspapers are full of stories about drunken young men dressed up as monsters causing injuries and mayhem.

In one such recent event in the town of Völkermarkt, police were called after at least six people were injured, reportedly after two rival Krampus groups clashed.

One therapist near Salzburg, Andrea Hammerer, runs a yearly seminar helping people who are scared to go outdoors at this time of year.

“The sound of the bells goes right to the unconscious,” Hammerer told AFP. “We get people to confront their fears, we bring in people dressed up as Krampus.”

Krampus performers say spectators can be the problem, grabbing their horns and throwing beer to wind them up.

Some groups held a demo in Klagenfurt recently to protest against negative media coverage.

But a whiff of danger is perhaps also part of the fun.

“There's a nice word for it — 'angstlust',” the pleasure of fear, Wolf said. “People love rollercoasters for example. There's a kind of comforting frisson about it.”

“When I was little I was a tiny bit scared,” said Lukas, 13, getting ready in Schwadorf to appear in his Krampus disguise. “But then I became one.”

This article was originally published in December 2017 on The Local Austria. 

CHRISTMAS

Where to find international food in Austria this Christmas

It’s always good to have a taste of home at Christmas, so here are the go-to places in Austria to find international food.

Christmas food
Whether you want the full dinner or just a beloved dessert from your home country, check this list of recommendations. Photo: picjumbo.com/Pexels

As we head towards another Christmas of Covid-19 restrictions, many international residents might be planning to stay in Austria this year instead of heading back to their home country.

But that doesn’t mean people have to go without their traditional Christmas treats.

Whether it’s British people searching for mince pies or Italians looking for the perfect panettone, there are specialist shops across the country selling international food. 

You just need to know where to look.

VIENNA

Bobby’s Food Store

Bobby’s Food Store is a shop on ​​Schleifmühlgasse in the 4th District and specialises in British and American products. It has a strong following on Facebook (13,000 followers) and regularly shares posts of new items in stock. Recent goodies include Mr Kipling cake mix, Bisto gravy, Paxo sage and onion stuffing and jars of Coop mincemeat. They also deliver to anywhere in Austria outside of Vienna.

Where: Schleifmühlgasse 8, 1040 Vienna.

Opening times: Monday to Friday 10:00-21:00; Saturday 10:00-18:00. 

La Stella Bianca 

For Italian food and drink, residents in Vienna should look no further than La Stella Bianca, which is located on Opernring 3-5 near the Wiener Staatsoper. Recent posts on the La Stella Bianca Facebook page show Christmas gift hampers and festive-looking panettone sweet bread in stock, as well as plenty of Italian meats and cheeses. 

Where: Opernring 3-5, 1010 Vienna.

Opening times: 08:30 to 19:00 (seven days a week).

Monte Ofelio

Another Italian suggestion is Monte Ofelio, which is primarily a cafe but also does take away. Customers can enjoy paninis, antipasti platters, bruschetta, biodynamic wines and, of course, panettone. Monte Ofelio also has a small grocery store selling products from independent Italian producers at their venue in Vienna’s 2nd District. 

Where: Schottenbastei 2, 1010 Vienna and Obere Augartenstraße 70, 1020 Vienna.

Opening times (during lockdown): Schottenbastei: Monday to Friday 08:00-14:00; Obere Augartenstraße: Tuesday to Saturday 10:00-18:00.

Prosi

Prosi claims to be the first store selling Asian, African and Latin American food in Austria, which was founded in the capital in 1999. The Prosi website says there are more than 10,000 exotic products available in the supermarket, including imported vegetables and a large variety of spices. Additionally, Prosi stocks food from the UK and USA.

Where: Wimbergergasse 5, 1070 Vienna.

Opening times: Monday to Saturday 09:00-19:00.

Britwurst

Carnivores rejoice: butcher Rich offers free-range turkeys, pigs in blankets, stuffing, and a variety of festive sausages alongside his usual range of British-style bacon and sausages. 

Where: Online at Britwurst.com

Opening times: Not applicable

GRAZ

Buon Cibo Italian Food Import

Buon Cibo is run by a married couple and they specialise in selling Italian produce to restaurants, as well as operating an online shop. Items currently available on their website are coffee, antipasti, oil, vinegar, pasta and pesto. They do free shipping for orders over €50, or self pickup by appointment.

Where: Online at buoncibo.at.

Opening times: Not applicable.

Romania Markt

This is a specialist store selling produce like cured meats and promises 100 percent Romanian stock. Romania Markt also has locations in Vienna, Linz, Salzburg, Klagenfurt, Sankt Pölten and Wels.

Where: Elisabethinergasse 10 -8020 and Triester Straße 330, 8055 Puntigam.

Opening times: Monday to Saturday 09:30-13:00 and 14:00-19:00. 

LINZ

F&S Internationaler Supermarket

This store specialises in food from many different countries and regions, with a particular focus on produce from the Balkans and Turkey. Google reviewers have recommended the selection of fruit and vegetables at F&S and left positive comments about the in-store customer service.

Where: Am Bindermichl 41, 4021 Linz.

Opening times: Monday to Friday 07:30-19:00; Saturday 08:00-18:00.

Non Solo Vino Italienische Delikatessen

This is an Italian grocery store located in central Linz. As to be expected, Non Solo Vino currently has a stock of panettone, as well as other specialities, like organic fig jam from Tuscany, homemade Ragu and Prosecco. They even have gift boxes filled with a selection of Italian produce and the website also features a collection of recipes.

Where: Bischofstrasse 15, 4020 Linz.

Opening times: Wednesday to Friday 10:00-13:00 and 14:00-18:00; Saturday 09:00-13:00; Sunday and Monday closed.

INNSBRUCK

Bottega di Parma

Bottega di Parma stocks a wide selection of wine, cheese, meat and other Italian produce. The shop is highly rated with excellent online reviews and it has a central location in Innsbruck’s Old Town close to the historic Goldenes Dachl (Golden Roof).

Where: Herzog-Friedrich-Straße 5, 6020 Innsbruck.

Opening times: Monday to Thursday 11:00-20:00; Friday and Saturday 11:00-20:30; Sunday 12:00-18:00.

SALZBURG

English Shop

The English Shop is just a short walk from Salzburg Cathedral and sells a wide selection of English food and drink (as the name suggests). They even have a section on their website dedicated exclusively to Christmas products, such as crackers, Coop clotted cream fudge, Walkers mince pies and brandy butter. At the time of writing this guide, they were operating a click and collect service due to the lockdown.

Where: Kaigasse 21, 5021 Salzburg.

Opening times: Monday to Saturday 10:00-18:00.

Asiatische Spezialitäten Markt 

For produce from Japan, Korea, China, Vietnam and Thailand, as well as other Asian countries, this is the shop to visit in Salzburg. Stock at Asiatische Spezialitäten Markt includes rice, flour, noodles, fresh food, spices and drinks.

Where: Schrannengasse 2, 5020 Salzburg.

Opening times: Monday to Friday 10:00-18:00; Saturday 10:00-17:00.

Elsewhere in Austria

For international residents that don’t live in one of Austria’s main cities, it can be hard to find international food and drink. If that’s the case, then try ordering online at one of the websites below.

British Corner Shop – for British food.

Snack Shop – for snacks from the UK and USA.

Beer Lovers – for a selection of craft beer and cider from around the world.

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