Mask carver: visiting Rettei masks

Krampus and Perchten masks from Puch

by Barbara / 02. Dezember 2021 / People / Tradition
Andreas Rettenbacher @ TVB Puch - Gerber

Andreas Rettenbacher: Passionate mask carver!

The Advent season brings some Salzburg customs and traditions with it. At the beginning of December, I can not imagine without Saint Nicholas with his gruesome companions, the terrifying Krampusse and also the Perchten, who ensure happiness in the New Year in the rough nights around Christmas. But not only the custom itself is exciting, but also the people behind it, who make it possible for the custom to live, customs to develop and the traditions to be passed on from generation to generation.

One of these people is Andreas Rettenbacher, better known as "Rettei". In December he is not only on the road as Krampus with the Niederalmer Krampussen and as Percht with the Tennengauer Raunachtsperchten, but also deals with the topic all year round as a mask carver. At the age of 10, he carved his first mask himself in his father"s carpentry shop, which unfortunately his grandfather heated up in the oven. The first painted mask he made when he was 14 years old he proudly holds in his hands.

Rettei-Masken, seine erste bemalte Maske © TVB Puch - Gerber

In his Rettei-Masken-Workshop in Puch he has been carving around 30 to 40 so-called “larvae” every year since 2006 for numerous Krampus passes and Perchten groups, such as the Sankt Jakober Weiherteufeln. He has made a name for himself throughout Austria and beyond with his “Rettei masks”. I visited him in his workshop in Puch and learned a lot for you. But let"s take it one after the other ...

Sankt Jakober Weiherteufel - Rettei Masken © Foto Lukas Krispler

From the tree to the mask

Every mask that comes from Andreas" workshop is unique and is created in a complex process that takes around 20 to 30 hours of manual work. Basically, 10 steps are necessary to pick up a finished Rettei mask:

  1. He starts with a Weymouth pine log (or stone pine), which is stored with him in 40 cm thick slices.
  2. The disc is quartered with the chainsaw and the pieces of wood roughly shaped into a head shape. The more you cut away now, the less you have to carve. But there is also the risk of cutting something away that you might still need.
  3. Now the piece of wood comes to his workshop to be pre-carved. With a hammer and one of the 40 different carving tools that hang in his workshop, the basic features of the mask, such as the nose, mouth and eye area, are created.
  4. Then the subtleties and other details such as wrinkles and facial expressions emerge.
  5. With the chainsaw in hand again, the carved block of wood is now pulled out.
  6. Back on the workbench, the surface of the mask is now carefully sanded by hand with sandpaper.
  7. Now the desired horns are mounted, whereby you have to make sure that the center of gravity is set correctly.
  8. The finished carved masks are then (mostly) brought to the Grossarltal to Alois Prommegger in Hüttschlag, who needs around 5 hours to paint each larva.
  9. Back in the Rettei mask workshop, if desired, the eyes can now be inserted, the fastening screwed on the inside and the mask padded with foam.
  10. Finally, all of the hair is attached and the mask is ready to be adjusted when you pick it up.

The Krampus-Look

As I was able to see in the “Rettei workshop”, the possibilities are almost limitless, from (shining) glass eyes and nose piercings to braided whiskers and long horns, nowadays almost nothing is impossible and often fails only because of the price question. The price of a rescue egg mask starts at 500 euros. How expensive a specimen is depends above all on the horns, Andreas explains to me: "Real animal horns are very expensive and not justified for a few days a year and often maybe even for one season. Bells & Co to be a "perfect Krampus or Percht" ". It"s good that there is now the possibility to pour plastic horns from original animal horns and not only reduce costs, but also the total weight of the mask. "A larva with real animal horns can weigh up to 13 kilos and you can buy a horn for 2,000," explains Andreas.

Rettei Masken © TVB Puch - Gerber

Krampus and Perchten to touch

With him you can find everything that makes a Krampus friend"s heart beat faster. His attic is (unfortunately thanks to Corona) full of around 50 self-made Krampus and Perchten masks (also for children), cow tails, bells and bells which he also makes himself as a trained industrial fitter. As you can see in the pictures, the selection of masks is impressive. You will find larvae with open mouths, blood-smeared faces with sharp teeth and traditional masks that look like they were made years ago, but were only created this year. Andreas explains to me that “the masks with an open mouth are called“ SCREAMING MASKS", and the others are“ EXPRESSION MASKS ”. There are also trends that can be seen very clearly thanks to various films and TV series such as "The Games of Thrones" or "Lord of the Rings". Those of you who are familiar with these characters will probably recognize certain masks immediately and suitable film scenes have this in mind (I"m not one of them).

The Krampus and the Horns

In general it is said that a Krampus, in contrast to the Percht, only has 2 horns, which for the most part maybe also true. But even earlier the Krampus often had more horns on their masks - simply because you had the horns of the animals at home and it looked nice. At that time, horns and skins from huntable animals had no place on a mask. Why? "Yes, because it was punishable and dangerous. Because whoever had ibex horns in the past had to be a poacher and it came before such Krampus no longer came home", says Andreas. Nowadays, Krampus also wear antelope or buffalo horns was not even known in the past. Animals that could not be hunted include cows, sheep and the goas (goats), which could be used without any problems.

Hörner für Krampus und Percht © TVB Puch - Gerber

Tastes are different

If I were allowed to be a Krampus, I would choose a traditional, non-screaming mask. Maybe it"s the childhood memories of the old, more angular masks from the past from the Original Pucher Krampussen at the Krampus run in Puch or the slightly friendlier grimaces, but I like them better. I also like the Krampus in thick sheepskin better than the lean "Krampei" and with the horns it is important to me that they point upwards. In my youth it was fashionable (I guess) that the horns were pointed forward, which often caught the eye and then hurt more than a slap of the rod on the legs. But thank God tastes are different and so no two masks are the same. Each piece of rescue egg masks is unique!

Mask art from Stiegl Hell

The mask, which you can see on the Stiegl-Hell bottle and which Andreas re-carved at Stiegl"s request, is also one of a kind. The mask on the label is special and is supposed to protect the beer from evil spirits. You can see the Stiegl mask in the Brauwelt in Salzburg.

Expert discussions: Krampus and Percht among themselves!

What happens when you sit for an interview with a Krampus mask carver in the workshop? A Krampus and Perchten friend comes by and has more to report about the Krampus and Perchten custom in Salzburg. Because Wolfgang Vogl from the Tennengau Raunachtperchten, who also lives in Puch, is a changing dictionary of customs and could spend hours reporting on the traditions and origins of the customs. I would like to briefly summarize everything he has told us here. Maybe there will be a detailed report next year, then I"ll be happy to talk to him longer.

Wolfgang Vogl - Tennengauer Raunachtperchten © TVB Puch - Gerber

Difference between Krampus and Percht

Wolfgang explains that "the big difference between the two gruesome journeymen lies in the fact that the Krampus is the punishing part of St. Nicholas at the beginning of December and that you shouldn"t actually meet again after St. Nicholas Day on December 6th. The Perchten in turn appear in the 12th Rough nights around Christmas, more precisely 6 days before and 6 days after Christmas Day on December 25. Together with the "Schiachperchten" (ugly) there are other Perchten figures, such as the Schnabelpercht, the Hobergoaß, the Vogelpercht and the Frau Bercht, who together from Move house to house and bring happiness and blessings for the next year with the slogan "to Gsund, to Fried and to Reim" (Health, Peace & Happiness).

He also explains that "in addition to the Krampus, Saint Nicholas is only accompanied by a forest spirit or Körbelmandl and Engerl. Witches, for example, actually belong to the Perchten. Likewise, a Krampus Pass without Nikolaus can be described more as a carnival guild than a traditional association. In addition, a Krampus should always carry a chain with him, as this is supposed to remind of the fallen archangel Lucifer who is chained to hell. Tradition comes from the Nikolausspiele, where St. Michael fought against the devil. The chain was too never intended to be struck, just the symbol for "chained to hell".

Andreas Rettenbacher und Wolfgang Vogl @ TVB Puch - Gerber

Raunächte & Perchten: Did you know that?

The rough nights are a chapter of their own and will be explained in more detail next time by our PUCH MAGAZINE AUTHOR Silja Parke. Briefly summarized here are a few interesting facts from Wolfgang Vogl:

  • The word PASS comes from fitting together, what the Krampus groups took over from the Perchten at one point or another. The pass actually comes from the Raunacht.
  • The three wise men visited the baby Jesus on December 26th. Since the church needed something for the pagan Perchtennacht on January 6th, it became the holiday of the Three Kings.
  • Each of the 21 noisy nights stands for a topic of health and you should "go smoking" with something different in each noisy night.
  • There are 4 big nights left: Christmas Eve on December 24th, Night of the Innocent Children on December 28th, Silver Star Night on December 31st and Perchtnacht on December 5th.
  • The Thomas night on December 21st is the day of the winter solstice but not a rough night! This mystical night was long before Christian times and its meaning goes back to the Celtic times.
  • Every four years the Percht is special in the Gastein Valley, where the custom has developed in Salzburg via Tyrol. 40 to 160 Perchten then move through the valley in 2 days. So 16 kilometers and 300 references per day!
  • The Tennengau Raunachtsperchten move every 2 years from the Vollerhof to the Kirchenwirt from farm to farm and bring happiness and blessings to Puch. Here"s a short video of it on Facebook!

Rettei Masken aus Puch © TVB Puch - Gerber

Have a nice Krampus and Perchten time in 2021

I would like to thank Andreas and Wolfgang very much for the time and the interesting information. For me, the hours in the mask carving workshop of Rettei-Masken in Puch were particularly instructive and interesting. For friends of the Krampus and Perchten tradition, the time from the end of November to the beginning of November is a very special and intense time, which must be lived and supported above all by the family members. Unfortunately, the customs and traditions of the Krampus Runs and Kränzchen cannot take place again and we all hope that it will be possible again without restrictions in 2022. At least home visits are possible and many young people are going back to the old customs.

Finally, I wish you a nice Krampus and Perchten season in Advent. Here are 3 tips for you, where you can see the rescue egg masks this year and where you can also win something from Andreas:

3 Rettei-Masken Tips:

1. From December 1st to December 7th you can see a Krampus rescue egg mask at the savings market in Puch.

2. The Sankt Jakober Weiherteufel with their rescue egg masks go from house to house in St. Jakob am Thurn from December 3rd to 5th. Registration for home visits at: Tel. 0664/40399959

3. A self-made Krampus bell from Andreas can be won at the Pucher Pucher Advent Calendar. The door of Rettei masks opens on December 5th! The raffle for all prizes will take place on the 3rd Sunday of Advent on December 19th!

This way to the Rettei mask workshop in Puch near Salzburg:

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