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Gordon Highlanders Austria

The 11th Highland Games in Donnerskirchen, Austria

An amusing report by Mag. Peter Csar, Laird of Glencairn

(Click a picture to enlarge it in a new window!)

DonnerskirchenAs every year on the first Sunday in August the Highland Games took place in Donnerskirchen (Burgenland), Austria, and as in the years before I again parked my car near the Donnerskirchen railway station at about 10 am. I remembered well that there had been heavy rain clouds last year but this year the sky was perfectly deep blue. Yes, this year the Games would take place on a wonderful and hot summer day - what a pity! No "nice Scottish weather" - how misfitting and inappropriate ...!! Oh yeah! It was just the reverse! During the relatively short drive from Vienna to Donnerskirchen there firstly had been rainy weather, and as the Chief had told me some days before that Iīd better take my umbrella with me I got ready to suffer from a fierce shower accompanied by wailing bagpipe sounds - how enormously wrong I was! It was on top of the imposing Leitha mountain range when the Scottish Burgenland wonder happened! The cheerless rain clouds vanished, and in front of me the Lake (NOT loch!) Neusiedl exposed to the sunīs rays in the deepest blue!

Waiting for action When we arrived at the meeting place near the railway station of Donnerskirchen there already was plenty going on here. Nevertheless I succeeded in parking my dark green Audi A6 Avant with a lot of stickers displaying the URL of my Scottish internet portal very effective in advertising across from the competition area. After my wife had won the fierce struggle for two seats beside the meadow I left her to meet Chief Christoph who organzises the Games every year to prattle shop about Highland Games in Scotland. On the way through the often kilted crowd I saw a lot of relaxed and smiling faces. Everyone was happy about the "nice Austrian" weather.

Braemar Games Oh yeah! And then I really found the Chief amidst this growing throng of already some hundred people. Of course, there wasnīt much time but a short small talk about the most famous Highland Games - those of Braemar which is a remote village in the loneliness of the Scottish Cairngorm range where I experienced a really unforgettable event also visited by Her Majesty the Queen (sheīs the lady in the turquoise costume sitting in the little house in the middle of the picture). The Chief told me that heīd like to participate in these great Games but we avoided wisely to make a comparison between Braemar and the Donnerskirchen Games.

The cup for the winner At the stroke of 11.30 am 27 teams (each team consisting of two men) and ten women were nominated to fight against each other and to win the trophy - a really pompous cup! Yes, dear reader! Itīs true! Here in Donnerskirchen kilted women are allowed to take the chance to stand the extemely hard competition test. Yeah! Thatīs true equality of rights! After every competitor knew to which team he/she belonged (it was, of course, rather strange that most of the team partners seemed to know each other more than good ...) and every participant had got his/her war-paint (the team number) on the wrist it was high time to admonish some wrong parkers not to hamper the marching in of the brave Scots with their strong Austrian connection and to explain properly and unequivocally what real Scotsmen have to wear under their kilts. These exact instructions later turned out to be enormously important for one of the competitors ...

The marching in of the competitors It was exactly 12 oīclock when the great sensational show-piece began. The wrong parker from Graz, the capital of beautiful Styria, had been rigorously driven away, the solemn oaths that all dress regulations under the kilt were faithfully kept were sworn and the Highlanders with Austrian passport were gathering behind the bagpipe band. The sun was already mercilessly burning down on the more or less oiled heads and limbs of now over 1000! visitors, and even the Austrian TV had accepted the invitation to come here with the intention to produce a five-minutes report for the regional TV station. Now it was time to return to the seat which meanwhile had been defended by Christine with teeth and claws against saucy invaders who in vain wanted to consume their hot chickens here. And now I shot my first picture of this great event - the triumphant entry of the glorious heroes.

Throwing the hammer Throwing the hammer The first contest for the gallant competitors was the weight throwing of the men. Of course, the rather faint bagpipe reel (maybe it had its origin in a DVD player ?) was now drowning in the harsh sound of the heroīs song "We are the champions" by Queen but this couldnīt injure the great humour which came up when the first strong guy began to swing the heavy 17 kg weight. Now, at the beginning of the competition the lath was at a measly height of 2 metres - actually a bottomless impudence and therefore the silvery ironweight flew in a high curve of some 4 metres over it. Soon afterwards the announcer recognized the absurdity of the senseless attrition of strengths and challenged the slat carriers to put the much too thin lath on the 3-metre-fixture. However, this brave deed let the competent jury frown immediately. If a Highlander succeeded in throwing the weight over the 4-metre bar he/she was allowed to drink a whisky at a sponsorīs cost. The chief mourners were the thin laths and if you consider that this competition alone took three hours you can imagine how many of these poor slats splintered to pieces. The picture above left shows one of the many sacrileges mercilessly done to them.

Throwing the hammer By the way - for the later champion the posts had been almost too short. Only when the lath had been laid on top of the vertical posts (5,5 metres) he failed.
After the last male competitor had thrown the weight the ladies got ready. Their weight was much lighter (6,5 kg) however, this didnīt impair the spectacular appearance of this event with absolute rarity value. Some of the strong ladies too succeeded in throwing their weight over the whisky height of four metres and furnished proof that the original competition start at two metres was really a shame! The later winner was in no way behind her male adversaries ... of course, their weight was less than half of the weight of the men. Nevertheless, my dear ladies - you earned my respect! Your appearance extremely revalorized this event!

Beer drinking contest At the same time the competitors were throwing the weight another contest took place somewhere in the background - an amusing drinking tournament! Those who had finished their throws and - if they had managed to reach the whisky height - had swallowed their brown reward now were challanged to lift a much lighter weight - a mug of cider. The Chief has decided to use genuine cider from Donnerskirchen instead of beer to contribute his share to the coma drinking of young people that had been pilloried by the Austrian press during the whole summer.
Unfortunately I donīt know if there was a much higher traffic around the three little WC-huts during and after this contest although I tried to have an eye on them. Doubtlessly it would have been better to add another one this year ... cheers!

Rope pulling After the exciting weight throwing contest another event followed which was also enormously revalorized by the appearance of the bold Highland lassies - rope-pulling. Firstly the 27 male teams fought against each other. As the 27th team had no real rivals two "lucky losers" were allotted who managed to beat team 27 and so reached the second rope-pulling round that would take place after the next contest. Hey! Were there dark-red faces! Muscles, as hard as steel, were cambering, and I waited (not without a good portion of malicious joy!) for the rough plumps of the pullers into the oven-dry grass as soon as the thick rope was let loose by one of the teams.

Avoid by all means to wear something under the kilt! During the first rope-pulling event a really impudent and unpardonable sacrilege of the worst kind became known to the public. Of course, although I think that Iīm an attentive visitor with a lot of Highland Games experience, I have to confess here and now that I didnīt notice it but somebody of the jury team obviously either had had the necessary sharp eye or had got a corresponding hint. The competitors of the next event already got ready when IT was pronounced by the speaker who told the shocked visitors with his thundering voice that a monstrous misdeed had been intentionally committed by one of the participating Highlanders. As the evil-doer was known the punishment followed immediately. He was seized and lifted up by some strong men and then one of them grasped under his kilt - oh yeah! And there the corpus delicti appeared, was proudly presented to the gaping crowd. Somebody misused one of the laths for the weight throwing contest to put the gained booty on top of one of the vertical posts where it fluttered in the soft wind like a flag. A hollow whispering floated over the paralyzed throng ... oh! The first but still timid smirking and then ear-deafening laughter, and somewhere, totally drowning in roaring applause, a desperate voice cried out for a surplus.

Pulling the barrel The Mayor of Donnerskirchen The next item of the Order of the Day was an event that had strictly speaking nothing to do with real Highland Games but was typical of the wine-growing community of Donnerskirchen - barrel rolling! Obviously enervated by the unpleasant interruption of app. ten minutes caused by the preceding execution team one and two taxied to the take-off point of this contest which - according to the game rules - was for men only. Each of the team partners had to roll a heavy and bulgy barrel through a zigzag course dotted with spitefully placed buoys and additionally had to interrupt the race half-way to swallow a small glass of wine produced in, of course, Donnerskirchen. The mayor (or should I say provost?) of Donnerskirchen who participated in each of the ten Games that were held up to now unfortunately had to pause this year but was present. The right picture above depicts him during his last year barrel race.

Pulling the barrel After the first 26 teams had finished their barrel race the game organizers had to get down to an almost insoluble problem again. What should they do with team 27? Should they really let the two Highland fighters run through the course without any rival? Impossible! And therefore a quite diabolical plan was contrived that could make the poor two guys look like fools and expose them to ridicule. Soon two brave lassies were found who, knowing that they hadnīt anything to loose, wanted to show team 27 the fastest way through the buoys. This contest turned out to be one of the most exciting of the Games. Due to a catastrophic mistake at the first buoy the male opponent (on the picture it is the guy with the violet fighting dress in the background) was already almost hopelessly behind his female rival so that he arrived at the wine bar while she had already rolled her barrel through the half course. Our blond sports-minded lassie actually kept her lead until she reached the winning-post - quel malheur! Unexpected excitement arose when the second guy managed to make up for his predecessorīs time so that team 27 won the race within hairīs breadth.

Egg throwing Completely new this year was the egg throwing contest. Announced by the delivery of countless new-laid raw eggs our Scottish heros now had to prove that they not only had a lot of muscles but also a good portion of dexterity. Each Team had to nominate a thrower and a catcher and got three attempts. Of course, the farer the egg was thrown the more difficult it was for the partner to catch it without smashing it and so there were a lot of brave catchers who trotted away to have their more or less precious kilts cleaned by diligent cleaning women beside the fighting ground.
The brave catcher on the picture was a tragic victim of a too far egg throw (the yellow blur on the kilt is NOT part of the tartan!). Oh yeah! He really took it to heart but rescue was near ...

Rope Pulling, 2nd run The following contest was the rope-pulling final. As the narrow-chested teams were already eliminated this was the appearance of the giants and therefore breathtaking excitement was guaranteed. To document what a Scotsman is really wearing under his kilt I unfortunately had to watch the rope-pulling competition through the lens of my camera and also had to choose one side of the rope. So I made my choice wisely and waited with the finger on the trigger. You can see the result on the picture above left. I had to go into split-second action ... what a pity! I was a little bit too slow but I think that the picture speaks in its favour (you can enlarge it with a click!).

Tossing the caber - Ladies Tossing the caber - Ladies Now - it was almost 4 pm - there were still two sporting contests left and the next was the doubtlessly most typically Scottish one - tossing the caber! This time the women began. Their caber was 3 metres long and its weight was 28 kg. As there were no lassie teams some of the kilted chevaliers helped them to pick up the heavy caber but to throw it was up to them. You have to participate in such a contest by yourself to know how difficult it is to toss the caber in the correct way so that it not only turn a somersault but is also thrown as far as possible, and if it eventually lies straight in the right direction you have a good chance to win the contest. Without the help of big muscles you cannot succeed, and the robust Highland lassies were cutting an excellent figure - no need for the ladies to fish for compliments! They got and really deserved them!

Tossing the caber - Gents Tossing ther caber - Gents It already was about half past four when over 50 more or less gigantic fighter got ready to show the vibrating crowd how to plough with a he-goat (sorry, this is an old Austrian proverb!) which unfortunately turned out to be very stubborn ... at least half of the throws flopped pitiably. Our blond hero (see second picture) proved impressively which unbelievable effect the loss of drawers can create. His score wasnīt the best but excellent!

Tossing the caber - Gents Tossing the caber - Gents An excited whisper floated in the air when the Chief of the Gordon Highlanders of Austria himself grasped the 5 metre long and with 50 kg rather heavy caber and took the lead with a provisional highscore of 10 metres and 40 cm or so.
You can see the later winner of this contest on the second picture. Nobody was able to toss the caber so far (about 12 metres or a little bit more) and correct than he. No doubt! With this performance he would have obtained a good result in professional Scottish Highland Games!

And now you certainly want to read a kind of conclusion written by a caber champion of former times - with pleasure! Seek a divorce from your wife/husband, get all your bones broken, quit your profitable job to become home- and roofless or jump from the highest bridge BUT MAKE SURE TO VISIT the next Highland Games in Donnerskirchen, Burgenland, Austria on the first Sunday of next August!

For more infos please contact Chief Christoph Gänsbacher or visit the official website of the Gordon Highlanders of Austria.

Copyright © 2022 by Mag. Peter Csar - All rights reserved.