Schemenlaufen - historical

History: a look back

There are almost no written records of Fasnacht from the old days. In 1597, however, Mummereyen (wearing of masks) was forbidden in Imst because the appointed day coincided with a church holiday. Also the threat of the Turks and epidemics were used as justification to prohibit carnival processions. All these regulations cite Imst as the responsible place of jurisdiction. Both secular and ecclesiastical authorities regularly tried to curb or even prohibit Fasnacht.

Abraham a Santa Clara

In the 17th century processions were allowed, provided that they were conducted in an orderly manner and without disturbance. In his 1842 novel Der Vogelfänger von Imst (The bird catcher of Imst), Carl Spindler cites the eloquent Abraham a Santa Clara, who supposedly said that the people should be allowed to wear masks once a year, since the mighty ones did so all the time. In another place of the same novel, however, a preacher gets to say, “Schemenlaufen ought not to be empty foolery otherwise off to prison with all you tobacco brothers and winos.”

In the Age of Enlightenment (18th century), when it was attempted to subordinate everything to reason, the authorities have of course little sympathy for such backward customs as Fasnacht. A lawsuit in Pfunds, a village on the foot of Reschenpass, shows the extent to which the inhabitants of Imst resisted such bans. In 1775, several boys were accused of having worn masks and paraded through their village, thus violating the ban. In their defense, the boys claimed that they had heard that similar processions had been held in Imst. Unfortunately to no avail, they were sentenced anyway. In the great fire of 1822, many costumes, masks but also important documents were destroyed forever.

Permission or prohibition

The 19th century can be seen as the crucial period for the further existence of Fasnacht. It was then that the conflict with secular and ecclesiastical authorities climaxed. Reports were written, stern letters of enquiry and vindication were exchanged between Imst, Innsbruck and Brixen (then the bishop’s see). It was extremely important that Dean Schweighofer, who was born in Imst, could guarantee that there were no excesses whatsoever to be found at Schemenlaufen.

First Reports

In the middle of the 19th century, Carl von Lutterotti worked as a civil servant in Imst. It’s to this man, who took an active interest in folk culture, that we owe the first images depicting Fasnacht - two sketches and a watercolor based on them. Now we can also find the first references to Fasnacht in literature, for example with Beda Weber (1837) and in early Tirolean newspapers (Innsbrucker Tagblatt in 1855, and after that with increasing frequency). These descriptions of course have to be taken with a certain amount of criticism, since the authors were often from out of town and not really well informed. The attempt of a pious lady of Imst to block the day of Fasnacht by means of a foundation was not successful. The inhabitants of Imst were not easily fooled and simply changed the day.

Regulated by the authorities

The first photographs of Schemenlaufen date back to the years after 1890. In 1908, the town’s officials only gave their consent under the following conditions – a limited duration from noon to 6pm, a committee that is responsible for orderly conduct, drunks are to be excluded, Spritzer and Kübelemaje (then still with water in their little buckets) must not unduly wet spectators, respectable behavior towards the audience etc. Fasnacht was first mentioned in a tourist guide in 1911 and 1914. Kurd Eichhorn wrote a brochure exclusively dealing with Schemenlaufen.

Times of war

WWI caused a longer interruption, and it was only in 1922 that Schemenlaufen took place again – characterized by the dire post war conditions. The committee, amongst other things, suggested that pretzels be given to people in need. Fasnacht immensely profited when the equally renowned and active artist Thomas Walch took over the direction of the committee. He introduced and implemented many fresh ideas. One example is a poster of his which was used for several Fasnachten to come. In 1933, Fasnacht was first held on Sunday because the dire economic situation made it impossible during the week. In 1938 (Austria’s independence was coming to an end), the people of Imst went to Fasnacht peacefully for the last time for many years to come. The idea to stage an extra schedule Fasnacht in 1939, to thank the Führer, failed due to the passive local resistance.


It was only in 1949 that there was a Schemenlaufen again, actively supported by the French occupational force. Just like in 1918, the dire situation after the war forced the committee to various improvisations and petitions to the administration in order to get hold of the needed materials. However, necessity knows no laws, and so there was a splendid Fasnacht on 20 February, 1949, with an overwhelming 30,000 spectators. It did not even matter that the Dutch queen Juliane, who was vacationing at Arlberg at the time, could no attend personally. Prince Bernhard and the two princesses Beatrix and Irene were there anyhow. In 1952, the legendary Fasnachtsmarsch by Franz Treffner had its debut. Within no time this piece of music became immensely popular and is today regarded as the Fasnacht hymn. When the 1957 procession was rained off, the custom was established to pay a mass for the poor souls in Kapuzinerkirche before each Fasnacht.

No sell out for the show

In the sixties and seventies the organizational requirements of Fasnacht increased and became more demanding for the members of the committee. What also increased was the interest of the media, now including television. While in 1955 some of the participants had still contributed to the film The Gamma People, similar demands were now explicitly declined. Neither was a delegation sent to the Olympic Games in Innsbruck. In 1981 Schemenlaufen was broadcast live on TV for the first time, a remarkable innovation. Two years later Joseph Zangerle, who was the justly praised chairman of many years, published the first book on Fasnacht. The following years saw ever more splendid Fasnachten, setting a high level of accomplishment, which had not been thought possible up to then.

The House of Fasnacht

In 1998 the House of Fasnacht was opened in the Glaserhaus, and in the following year the archive was set up. The museum opened its gates to the public in 2001. Influenced by newly emerging Fasnachten everywhere, tradition conscious towns are now working together more closely, organizing regular multimedia exhibitions both in Austria and abroad. Contemporary problems are the rising number of participants, the fact that technology threatens to become all dominating, and that obtaining traditional materials becomes increasingly difficult However, everything will be sorted out in the traditional way of coming together to talk things over. It’s all about keeping the tradition of Fasnacht is alive. Fasnacht forever!

Text based on the detailed descriptions by Manfred Waltner in his book Fasnacht in Imst.

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