Krampus in Berchtesgaden

Back when I was a young university student, I spent a glorious, crazy time in Europe . . . backpacking with my trusty Canadian flag and working whenever I ran out of money. 

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Berchtesgaden became my home base. You might have heard of Berchtesgaden before because Hitler also considered it his home base. Half an hour from Salzburg, Austria, it’s an absolutely beautiful spot and sadly cringe-worthy to think that he enjoyed the same views that I came to love. 

When I lived there, signs of the Nazi influence still permeated the town. A hotel manager where I worked actually had a portrait of Hitler on his office wall. Creepy. There were, however, older ghosts lingering in the mountain vales of the Watzmann and Kehlstein—a pre-Christian tradition called Krampus

On the eve of December 5th, fur and straw-clad mountain creatures descended into the town to beat evil out of unprotected citizens. The noisy, bell-clanging ogres meandered down the main street of the Christmas-card setting lashing whips and chains at innocent bystanders. 

I much preferred St. Nicholas. He'd stuff my shoes with oranges, trinkets and chocolates. There was always the possibility that he would leave coal instead of treats and perhaps a cane for my parents to use on me if I didn’t behave in the weeks leading up to Christmas. 

As a poor traveller, I couldn't afford the regular tour bus of the Eagle's Nest.  So I climbed to the top of the Kehlstein and looked down at it. My photo is poor quality but it sure brings back the memories.

I explored Nazi Christmas traditions as background research for my upcoming novel. Hitler’s circle was eager to eradicate Christian traditions and encouraged the pagan rituals—but without much success. One pagan tradition, however, that continues to be embraced worldwide is the Christmas tree. The Nazis preferred to call it the Jul Tree or Tree of Lights. 

The pain caused by the Nazis has left many more lingering wounds than the childhood fears of any pagan rituals.

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