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Hans Wurst is back in town!

20 September is a day on the calendar that most Salzburgers circle in red. A single glimpse at the historic district will immediately tell you why, once the Rupertikirtag is going full tilt. And in the midst of this high-spirited folk festival, which takes place on and close to Cathedral Square, you’ll likely bump into no other than that hive-of-activity personified: Hans Wurst!

This comical medieval character is easy to recognize: sporting a brick-red jacket, light leather pants and wielding an old-fashioned slapstick. Hans Wurst is fond of using the latter to “dust off” the rear ends of female visitors. Not to worry, it isn’t some form of cheap come-on. In fact, what he’s doing is actually said to bring good luck, blessings and, above all, fertility. And this cheerful free spirit isn’t prone to hiding his opinion under a bushel either. And he shouldn’t. You see, ever since the High Middle Ages he has been a mouthpiece for the ‘common folk’, able to speak openly and sometimes brazenly without mincing his words. If you are an English-speaker, you might well have heard of “Tom Fool” or know the expression “tomfoolery”. If so, Hans Wurst plays essentially that same kind of role in German culture.

Viva la Tradition!

Hans Wurst’s resume is impressive to say the least: He always seems to be showing up as a humorous addition to special events, and is closely tied to a number of folk customs. Until well into the 18th century, the jokester would get up to his horseplay at country fairs practically everywhere. He even appears as the character Papageno in Mozart’s famous opera “The Magic Flute”, a comical feathered guest popular on opera stages around the world. It was here in Salzburg, back in 1977, that Hans Wurst – fondly known here by the locals as Hanswurstn – experienced a revival. At that time, a tradition-loving lay performer breathed fresh life into the connection between this prankster and the Rupertikirtag. Ever since then, it has been impossible to imagine this annual folk festival at the foot of Salzburg Cathedral without him.

Happy 20-Year Anniversary, Hans Wurst!

Getting to be Hans Wurst is an honor. And an honor bestowed on very few people. The current record holder in the role is Johannes Rupert Franz, a Salzburg native who has been faithful to the cheerful joker for the past 20 years. After dealing with some health issues, he moved out into the more rural setting of the Pinzgau region. Now living in Niedersill, Johannes Franz owns a small farm with barely one hectare of land – along with a cow, calf, sheep and, in summer, a bull. But the role of Hans Wurst provides a perfect counterbalance. Although being a farmer means a lot to him, Johannes Franz also like people. That kind of affability is one of the most pronounced characteristics of Hans Wurst, having taken socializing to a whole new level.

As the “heart & soul” of the Rupertikirtag, he pops up practically everywhere. And disappears just as quickly. He puts a face on the event and a smile on everybody’s face. That also includes paying a visit to some of the très chic bars from time to time. The locals already know what he’s up to, but tourists sometimes gasp and hesitate for a second, until they finally process what’s really going on. That said, Hans Wurst is also a resource you can count on – for personal background scoop on the Kirtag, and as someone who will always lend you a friendly ear. One reason that Hans Wurst continues to be so popular in Salzburg, of course, is the fact that the people here love and actively nurture all of their folk traditions. An annual visit to the Rupertikirtag is obligatory for many. And that includes making their own personal folk-fashion statement. Amid the many other marvelous customs associated with this annual fair in honor of Salzburg’s patron saint. No wonder, then, that so many visitors do their own personal bit to add to the unique atmosphere of the Rupertikirtag: rather than the hurly-burly of a funfair, injecting a hint of retro charm instead – something that delights Hans Wurst, along with his countless friends.