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Funken, Kehlegg/Dornbirn, Bonfire Tradition © Markus Gmeiner / Vorarlberg Tourismus GmbH
The bonfire in Kehlegg has been reignited

The Traditional Custom of Funken (Bonfires)

Funkenabbrennen: This old Alemannic tradition signifies the banishment of winter and a welcoming of spring.

Once the hustle and bustle of the Christmas and Carnival periods are at an end, residents of Vorarlberg look forward to welcoming the next festival: Funkenabbrennen (the burning of bonfires). This old Alemannic tradition signifies the banishment of winter and the welcoming of spring. This custom is traditionally celebrated on ‘Funkensonntag,’ the Sunday after Ash Wednesday although an increasing number of towns stage the festival on the night before because many villages now celebrate the burning of bonfires as a proper folks festival.

In Kehlegg, a mountainous district of Dornbirn, there is even a special ‘Funkenzunft’ guild for the upholding of this tradition. After all, ensuring that everything goes off without a hitch takes planning. This is of course no problem for the dedicated volunteers under the direction of Marco Büsel, the bonfire master (Funkenmeister). There are currently 25 proud members of this coveted group and everyone from the town wants to take part, help and co-organise this popular event. In fact, things progressed to such a level that the guild had to stop accepting new members in order to better coordinate all the helping hands. Unsurprisingly, the tasks of this special Funken guild are diverse and take place throughout the year

Funken, Kehlegg/Dornbirn © Markus Gmeiner / Vorarlberg Tourismus GmbH
Funken, Kehlegg/Dornbirn © Markus Gmeiner / Vorarlberg Tourismus GmbH

The distribution of rolls between men and women in the Funkenzunft bonfire guild are rather traditional: While the men take care of the woodworking and setting up the bonfire, the women manage the catering. The Funkenhexe witch is an extra special highlight. The guild members fashion this figure together and always on the Thursday before the bonfire.

Collecting wood for this special event begins early in the year and on the first Saturday after Three Kings Day (Epiphany), the guild members start to make noise to advertise the approaching event. Amongst villagers this is of course most welcome and for many of them it’s not enough to simply welcome the guild members with a schnapps or a snack. Instead, the encounter often develops into a spontaneous party, providing one and all with a first taste of “Funken” fun. Three weeks before the official bonfire there is a last guild meeting to go over all the minute details one final time.

Currently, the Kehlegg Funkenzunft guild has 25 proud members and membership in this group is highly coveted. The tasks of the guild members are diverse and take place throughout the year.

Bonfire Master Marco Büsel
Funken, Kehlegg/Dornbirn © Markus Gmeiner / Vorarlberg Tourismus GmbH
Funken, Kehlegg/Dornbirn © Markus Gmeiner / Vorarlberg Tourismus GmbH
Funken, Kehlegg/Dornbirn © Markus Gmeiner / Vorarlberg Tourismus GmbH
Funken, Kehlegg/Dornbirn © Markus Gmeiner / Vorarlberg Tourismus GmbH
Funken, Kehlegg/Dornbirn © Markus Gmeiner / Vorarlberg Tourismus GmbH
Funkenbrauch, Kehlegg/Dornbirn © Markus Gmeiner / Vorarlberg Tourismus GmbH

The distribution of rolls between men and women in the Funkenzunft bonfire guild are rather traditional: While the men take care of the woodworking and setting up the bonfire, the women manage the catering. The Funkenhexe witch is always a special highlight. Guild members fashion this figure together and always on the Thursday before the bonfire. First, they craft the framework of the witch and carve the head out of polystyrene. Next, they paint the face and stitch the dress. Even little ones like to get involved. To ensure that the Funkenzunft guild remains viable into the future, it means a lot to the group to ensure that children are involved. Therefore, each year the Kindergarten Kehlegg constructs a small bonfire, which is also burned in celebratory effigy on Saturday just prior to the igniting of its larger counterpart. The highlight of the evening, like at most such Funken bonfire evenings in Vorarlberg, is the big moment when the flames are lit: Winter is burned in effigy so that the spring may arrive.

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