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
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.
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.
The Funken bonfire in Kehlegg
is an especially family-friendly event in which the entire village gathers together to gossip, celebrate and laugh together until late into the night. The festival means a lot to the community. After all, the fires took place every year in Kehlegg from 1987 until 2006 when the fires stopped because Markus Büsel, the founder and bonfire master for many years and head of the guild, relinquished his post. But in 2009, fresh faces arrived to revive the erstwhile Funkenzunft guild. The group decided to reinstitute the annual festival, which many in the village had sorely missed. After all, the people of Kehlegg grew up with Vorarlberg traditions and wanted to ensure that their children were also able to do so. So they put their plans into action and all participants devoted themselves eagerly to the tradition’s revival. So it was that in 2010 the fires burned once more in Kehlegg. The Funkenzunft guild was reborn under the direction of Marco Büsel, the son of Markus Büsel. Today, Marco remains the dedicated bonfire master of Kehlegg and he and his team stage the event every year together.
Funkenzunft Kehlegg, Dornbirn (in german)