For over 50 years Interlaken has been seeing a wooden mask parade roaming through its streets on the 2nd of January. Part of Interlaken’s three day New Year’s celebrations (and the longest New Year’s party in the world) this Harder Potschete parade is a unique New Year’s festival combining legends & traditions with a unique twist.

Harder-Potschete – a masked parade & New Year’s tradition from Interlaken.

Almost 200 meters below the Harder summit in Interlaken there is a cliff that shows the huge face and shoulders of a man without human intervention: the “Hardermannli”. Look well and you will spot it. A legend that has been handed down in the vernacular also deals with the emergence of this strange natural formation. It is this “Hardermannli” that is the main feature of the customs each January 2nd when he descends with his entourage to the people on the Bödeli, the greater Interlaken area between the Lake of Brienz and Lake of Thun. A wooden masked parade of the harder man and his ghostly family & friends is the highlight of the celebrations and a true must visit during the three day celebrations at ‘the longest new year’s party & celebrations in the world’ in Interlaken.

A world of ghosts and wooden masks

Each year on January 2nd the “Hardermannli” and his entourage reach the center of Interlaken secretly around 2:30pm. In the meantime, dozens of forest spirits have also gathered on the market square. Elves and mermaids who have emerged from the floods of the Aare, and everything that has remained hidden in the dark during the year now makes a spectacular comeback.

There are the “Schnäggehusler” (snail shell house), «Tanzzäpfler», “Chrisäschtler” and «chummlers» all wearing outfits and dresses full of natural ornaments from the forest and Harder Kulm mountain. The wooden mask however is by far the most essential and most impressive feature in all these figures. Since the tradition was resumed in 1955, the Harder Potschete Committee has purchased around forty artistically valuable wooden masks which are used for the parade each year. These work of art are truly unique and very valuable. When you see the amount of detail present in these carefully crafted wooden masks you understand why.

What is the Harder Potschete?

But why the name Harder Potschete? What gave the custom its name?

A “Potschen” or “Süüblaateri” is a pig bladder which formed a huge part of the original tradition dating back centuries. On the 2nd of January the butchers provided the boys of Interlaken with a large quantity of pork bladders that go them filled with air like a balloon. The exuberant boys let their bulging “Potschen” whiz down on the screaming girls with a sense of well-being to chase the evil spirits. In the beginning, the bladders were attached to sticks, pulled through the dirt when the weather was “dirty” and then hit onto some “victim” over the head. Luckily, this bad habit has disappeared. Over time the Potschete name stuck even though the tradition slightly changed. In its current form the Harder Potschete became a parade celebrating the “Hardermannli”, the spirits & ghosts dwelling in the area together with the musical Trychler groups from Unterseen, Matten and Goldswil, the “Silvesterchläus” music group, the Guggemusig Bödeli rascals and the drum group Matten. All of these have become a big part of the parade and tradition on the 2nd of January.

The Wooden Mask Parade of Interlaken

So instead of dirty pig bladders being tossed around these days on the 2n of January a procession of masked figures called Pots take to the streets. They are led by the Hardermännli and his Wyb (wife). Running after spectators, roaring and shouting, they pretend to drive away the spirits of the year passed and call for a prosperous new year. The hand carved wooden masks are full in detail and absolutely stunning. Together with the musical groups they form an impressive procession which gets followed by a marketsquare party full of celbrations.

All in all this the Harder Potschete marks the end of Interlaken’s 3 day New Year’s celebrations. After its refreshing New Year’s dip & dive, the free ‘touch the mountains festival with 30.000 people‘ Interlaken’s longest new year celebration in the world finally comes to an end and the town to rest.

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