There are many customs in Germany and many traditions have even survived in several regions. But sometimes there are also some festivals that are only celebrated very locally and often seem strange to outsiders. One such festival is the Dirty Pig Festival in the Mansfeld County in the East of Germany. At Pentecost grown men gather for this and literally throw themselves into the mud. This ancient tradition goes back centuries. Time to take a closer look at this curiosity and introduce you to a festival you have probably never heard of.
Pentecost in Mansfelder Land – People are drawn to the forest
The alarm clock rings. It is 7 o’clock in the morning. Actually, it is almost too late. We pack our things into a handcart and trot off. I drag along the street, still a little tired. With us, many other people are also walking. Some have loaded whole crates of beer onto their handcarts. The sun is already shining. Today is a good day to finally drive out the winter.
Dirty Pig Festival – Ancient Pagan Custom
After a few hundred meters, we turn and are already in Ziegelrode, a part of the village of Ahlsdorf. It is the first of the villages in the Mansfelder Grund, which is overshadowed by a rather flat slag heap in the Mansfeld County. The “Grund” is a series of villages that stretch through a valley in the Mansfeld County near Helbra. At Pentecost, Ziegelrode, Ahlsdorf, Hergisdorf and Kreisfeld are places of pilgrimage for many people from the region. Those who still live there and those who, like me, come to visit from time to time. What I also remember since my childhood is already an ancient tradition there. The Pentecost festival in the villages is an old pagan custom that has been celebrated there for centuries.
Collect money with the young birches
The so-called Pentecost Boys go to drive out the winter. Already on the Saturday of Pentecost weekend, birch trees are cut in the forest. These are still young birch trees, which are then distributed in a procession in the villages. For this purpose, the “runners” go from house to house and collect donations for the Pentecost celebrations and the Pentecost Society. The Pentecost Boy in charge gives a speech and the head of the family receives a shot of strong liquor. Sometimes children also receive “Pentecost money” from parents or grandparents. In the evening, most of the inhabitants of the villages gather for the Pentecost dances. People dance to old and new hits from East and West and from round the world.
Get up early for the forest visit
A miracle is, however, that the young men, who were involved in heavy drinking the previous days, still make it out of bed. Always on the Monday of Pentecost all villagers and also people from the surrounding communities go into the forest for the so-called “forest party”. With child and cone they flock to the Pentecost Meadows, a clearing behind the village of Ziegelrode. Our family has always gone to the Pentecoast celebration of the village of Ahlsdorf in the forest near Ziegelrode. In the villages the inhabitants are already woken up shortly after dawn by the wandering Pentecost Boys. The white-clad lads, adorned with colorful hats, crack their huge whips in the alleys of the villages. The leather straps hiss through the air. When the Pentecost Boys are well practiced, they accelerate the whip to supersonic speed. This way they make them crack very loud.
The fight of summer against winter
On the Pentecost Meadow, the Pentecost Boys meet the winter. To do this, the “Dirty Pigs” try to splash the brightly dressed guests of the Pentecost Festival – hence the name Dirty Pig Festival. The filthy finches wallow in the mud. Painted junk cars are also often sacrificed for the festival. Families with children picnic on blankets. All sorts of simple stalls offer can throwing or a punch. The task of the Pentecost Boys is to keep the Dirty Pigs away from the people and to drive them into a pond so that they can wash and get rid of the winter. In the end, it is also always determined which side has won. If the Pentecost Boys win, it will be a nice summer. This year it could be cold, because the Pentecost Boys are not allowed to celebrate in 2021 because of the corona pandemic.
How to get to the Dirty Pig Festival?
Mansfeld County is a rather remote region in Germany and the villages are even more remote. However it’s not impossible to get there.
Visit the Dirty Pig Festival in Ahlsdorf
To get to the Dirty Pig Festival in Ahlsdorf you should take a train to the town of Lutherstadt Eisleben which is also your best base to stay in the area. To get to the villages there are local buses which run rather rarely on holidays. The festival usually takes place every year on Pentecost Monday starting early in the morning, which is usually from 7am. I am in Ahlsdorf every year. There is no entrance fee for the festival. Meeting point there is always at the Pentecost Meadow (Pfingstwiese). You might want to ask some locals but you will see plenty of people walking there. To do this, it is best to park the car in the street to the forest restaurant Ziegelrode or right in the village in Ahlsdorf and walk from there. Alternatively, you can also park near the education and recreation center in Ahlsdorf and walk from there to the fish pond. The fish pond is later the destination of the Whitsun boys. From here you have to walk up the hill to the north through the forest to get to the forest party.
Dirty Pig Festival in Hergisdorf
The Dirty Pig Festival in Hergisdorf takes place every year at the Wildbahn. There is a parking lot directly at the Wildbahn, hence if you have a rental car you can easily reach it, just like Ahsldorf. In addition, there are shuttle buses there from the village. More info on the pages of the Pfingstgesellschaft Hergisdorf about the Dreckschweinfest (in German, use Google Translate to translate it).
Dirty pig festival experience at home
Don’t worry, I’m not asking you to wallow in the mud at home right now, although some of the Dirty pigs will certainly have withdrawal symptoms and may even do so. There is, however, a nice way to bring a little bit of the Dirty Pig Festival home to you, despite the cancelled Pentecost. The director Mario Schneider, who like me is from Helbra, has made a documentary about three young Pentecost boys. Meanwhile they are all grown up but the film is still a great document of time. If you like, you can order the film here at Amazon or directly at the production company. There are English subtitles for the movie.
Note: Thanks to my dear sister Claudi for providing some of the pictures!