Nationwide Inventory of Intangible Cultural Heritage
“Tonnenabschlagen” is an old tradition, which is mainly performed in coastal regions of Mecklenburg and Western Pomerania. It is a rallying competition, in which participants ride their horses at a gallop through a course and slash with a wooden stick called “Tonnenknüppel” at a barrel decorated with leaves and colorful ribbons.
Facts & figures
Crucial date: between February and August
Domains: social practices, rituals and festive events
Where to find: Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania
Interessengemeinschaft Tonnenbünde Darß-Fischland
On the day of the festival, people are woken up with wind music. At noon there is a parade with decorated horses and riders in festive clothes. During the actual competition in the afternoon, the players ride one by one at a gallop through the course and slash at the barrel as long as it takes to fully knock it off. Usually, three kings are identified: the "bottom king", the "bars king" and the "barrel king" are those who cut off the last pieces of the bottom, the bars or the entire barrel respectively.
The tradition has spread in the 16th and 17th centuries from the Netherlands over Denmark and Sweden to Germany. It is to be understood as a peasant modification of mediaeval court tournaments, from which citizens, peasants and servants were excluded. Since the end of the 19th century, the barrel riders have been organized in clubs and associations. They set the schedule, the dress code and the competition rules. Since 1950, women are allowed to participate and have already won several titles.
On the peninsula of Fischland and Darß the festival is celebrated annually in various places at different dates. In the surrounding region, there are well over 50 places, which perform the tradition in a variety of ways. For example, modifications exist in which bicycles, tractors or walking is used instead of riding horses. The tradition is passed on from generation to generation. The tradition is maintained in kindergartens as well as at birthday parties. Also, parallel to the adults’ competitions, a children's “Tonnenabschlagen” takes place, where children compete on foot.