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            What is Schlaraffia?

Once every week from October through April the members of Schlaraffia gather at their meeting place, which they call their ‘Castle’. They dress up with colorful mantles covered with even more colorful patches, or drape a sash covered with small metal pins over their shoulders, put a kind of jester-bonnet on their head and begin to engage in a play full of witty and humorous action and dialogue. They call this their ‘Schlaraffisches Spiel’ (Schlaraffia Play). Since its founding 165 years ago, this play follows 4 principal components, which are in general considered the values and ideals of Schlaraffia.

The fourth component: The Friendship

The fourth and considered most important component of Schlaraffia is ‘Friendship’! Originally this component was not specifically emphasized since the founders were all friends. When Schlaraffia started to expand and new chapters were formed, the founders realized that they needed besides the original uniting components a tighter brace around their growing organization, and the component of friendship was the natural choice. This had decisive consequences and gave Schlaraffia its durability. It is undisputed that the basic component ‘Friendship’ has held Schlaraffia together over the past 165 years.  

There are some substantial reasons for this:

Initially the artistic presentations during the meetings were performed by professional artists, but more and more non-artists, amateurs engaged in artistic recitals. As a result, the artistic level started to fluctuate in the form of presentation and content. The spectators also saw the performances in different lights; some were excellent and some were bad, which naturally also applied to the professional artists. But thanks to the bond of friendship which always is evident to the presenter there is applause alone for trying, regardless if it is splendid or outright bad. This encourages everybody to step up and present something, even at the risk of making a fool of one self. Furthermore, each member of Schlaraffia knows that he can visit any chapter in the world for their evening gathering, and he is assured to be welcomed and honored like an old dear friend, even if he never met any of the chapter’s members before. This creates a strong bond of all members of Schlaraffia worldwide.

The bond of friendship is also evident in the profane world beyond the Schlaraffia Play. But the members are also regular humans. Sometimes it can and will happen that it could be difficult to maintain a close friendship with a fellow member also in private. But then the real strength of Schlaraffia’s values and ideals is revealed: the respect for each other and the high threshold for tolerance within Schlaraffia make it possible in such cases to continue playing together the Schlaraffia Play.


The first component: Give and Take

Today we live in a fast-moving time which is not always peaceful and pleasant. During many situations of the daily human interface moral engagement and obligations are weak or absent. Quite often barriers of mistrust are obvious and safe zones are established. In Schlaraffia you find a society, which elevates you above the daily trot, which gives you a meaningful content and joy of life. Schlaraffia’s motto is ‘und das Herz gehört dazu’ – and the heart belongs to it – and with that they enlighten the daily dullness with bright shining candles and clear it from work and social pedantry like jealousy, ambitions and low thoughts.

During their meetings, each member has the opportunity to ride his hobby horse, or show other talents. Often a member is inclined to show his painting, play an instrument, recite a poem, or speak about an interesting scientific subject, and with this he delights the other members and broadens their knowledge and mind. This mutual Give and Take is always performed with the highest degree of tolerance, mutual understanding and refreshing encouragement. They all participate in the play, even those, who are just listening. Wisely, subjects like politics, religion, or business are banned from the meetings. Every performance or contribution of the members to the meeting is being lauded by the meeting’s chairman, and the audience thanks with humorous comments and applause. Everything presented, amateurish or professional, is being acknowledged and accepted with much approval and praise. The meetings of Schlaraffia are a constant Give and Take.

The second component: The Game of Chivalry

The mutual Give and Take has been embedded into a second component of the Schlaraffia Play: ‘The Medieval Game of Chivalry’, or better described as the parody of it. When Schlaraffia was founded during the midst of the 19. century there was a great enthusiasm for the seemingly romantic Middle Ages amongst the bourgeois population, and, in particular, for the medieval chivalry and knights. It was obvious for the founders to fall back to the courtly rituals of those times, also easily satisfying their appetite for satire and persiflage. Schlaraffia’s pseudo-dignitaries and devote and venerable ceremonies are a perfect stage to mock the odious authorities and nobilities.

Today’s members of Schlaraffia meet in ‘Castles’, they wear ‘Armor’, they developed their own pseudo-medieval language, and the rules of their play resemble ceremoniously pompous court etiquette. They give themselves funny and mostly ambiguous names characterizing personal attributes, qualities or talents. The players of the Game of Chivalry follow the hierarchy of ‘Pages’, ‘Squires’, and ‘Knights’. They carry wooden daggers, halberds and swords, they fight duels with words. For a newcomer, this medieval aspect of the Schlaraffia Play might seem strange and silly, but when he realizes that the entire play proceeds within the framework of mimicking the medieval times, that all is done with great humor and tongue in cheek, then he starts to grasp the deeper sense of Schlaraffia. Once he understands that it is all a way of moving away from what the members of Schlaraffia call ‘a profane world’ into an idealistic one, it then takes on a completely different and plausible meaning. The Game of Chivalry frees the members of Schlaraffia from the worries and doubts of the daily ‘profane’ life and gives them new strength.

The third component: Arts and Humor

Give and Take’ and the pseudo ‘Game of Chivalry’ alone would not differentiate the Schlaraffia Play from an amateur theatrical play, would there not be an additional third and important component: the cultivation of the ‘Arts and Humor’. This component defines the standard and level of the entire play. “In Arte Voluptas” – “Pleasure lies in the Arts” - is Schlaraffia’s motto. However, it is wrong to expect that an evening at Schlaraffia is like going to a concert or museum and oneself is just an observer or listener. It is more like an orchestra where everyone is encouraged to play his ‘very own instrument’. One gives a short lecture about an interesting subject, another sings an aria, and a third one plays a musical instrument. Others recite in prose or poetry, solemn, funny, lyrical or ironical. But there are also just the listeners and spectators, but they have learned to master this art within the mutual play of ‘Give and Take’. Each individual player contributes to the play to his best capabilities, and it always shows that everybody can indeed contribute.

Humor and a smirking seriousness characterize all artistic presentations. For Schlaraffia humor is smiling pityingly at the frailty of human nature and, in particular, at one’s own shortcomings. It is an affirmative answer to life as well as to joy. Their humor has nothing to do with telling jokes; the humor is not ponderous and not offending. It has its roots in the warmth of the individual’s heart following their motto: ‘the heart goes with it!’ Ceremoniously with a mischievous twinkle in their eyes they honor each other’s performances with cheap tin medals, accompanied by humorous remarks. They fight spirited duels where the weapons of choice are their sharp tongues. Here all the stops of the play are pulled and only wit and brilliant brains rule. The cultivation of the Arts and Humor transforms Schlaraffia into the land of intellect and soul.