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The Grand-Duchy has a reputation abroad for being staid and steady. Unflashy and conservative even. Throughout most of the year, the country does little to dispel this notion, but there are events and moments that see this conservatism truly go out of the window. Some of these are new: Summer in the City, which turns Place d’Armes and Place Guillaume into outdoor concert venues with eyebrow raising frequency is one. The St. Patrick’s Day festival is another: while there have been celebrations of March the 17th in Luxembourg for several years, 2007 and 2008 saw the Irish take over Place d’Armes in a sign that their national holiday has truly become mainstream. So how do the Luxembourgers react to this? With a gloriously “if-you-can’t-beat-them-join them!” mentality. Similarly, the Luxembourgish national holiday of the 23rd of June is unanimously embraced by both the native and foreign communities, as are the festivities and fireworks the night before.

But the largest and most significant festival is the Schueberfouer, which traditionally runs from August 23rd until September 10th every year. When one approaches and sees the bright lights, fairground rides and cavernous temporary restaurants, one may be forgiven for thinking that the event is very modern, but it was started by John the Blind in 1340, and thus will be celebrating its 669th birthday in 2009. Whether John the Blind would recognise it if he saw it today (so to speak) is another point. However, in his original charter to found the Schueberfouer, John the Blind decreed that there should be a fair in Luxembourg starting the day before the feast of Saint Bartholomew and lasting eight days. He further specified that this should be an annual event and should run “forever”. The original purpose of the Schueberfouer (or, as native Luxembourgers call it, simply “Fouer”) was as a market in which customs and duties were relaxed for a period, which caused an early and temporary centralisation of commercial activity. The timing is clearly in line with the end of the harvest season, with crops and livestock being amongst the original items traded. For many Luxembourgers, the end of the fouer is the clear delineation of the end of summer, and the temperatures do begin to drop noticeably thereafter as the country enters its apple and grape harvesting season.

As the years passed, the Scheuberfouer moved to its current location on the Glacis in Limpertsberg, finally settling there permanently in 1893, and began to develop not only as a proto-agricultural trade fair, but also as a marketplace for crafts and other goods from around Luxembourg and its surroundings. Things began to change significantly in 1821 when a travelling zoo of exotic animals became an attraction that customers paid to see rather than purchase, and the 1840s saw the introduction of variety shows and theatres as well as circuses and animal shows. There were isolated attractions in the past: in the 1600s, the Schueberfouer introduced a stunned Luxembourg public to both “a hairy man” and “a giant”, but these delightful events took place 50 years apart. The advent of Cinema had an effect on the Schueberfouer and the early part of the twentieth century saw this take over as the main attraction, although the presence of German engineer Hugo Haase’s Figur 8 Bahn rollercoaster in 1910 was the first time a proper fairground ride was demonstrated to the probably gobsmacked Luxembourg public. From the 1930s onwards, the focus was definitively on mechanical rides, with ferris wheels, caroussels and variations on the roller coaster theme becoming more and more prevalent until we are left with the Scheuberfouer as we know it today: mechanical rides that as one gets older become increasingly terrifying looking, loud noises, pungent smells, heavy food, drinks and atmosphere. One final point about the Scheuberfouer: it is no longer possible to buy livestock, although records show that as recently as 1894, 427 oxen and one thousand piglets were sold!

So what is the Scheuberfouer experience nowadays? To appreciate in all its full and gaudy glory, it is best to go around twilight and make a proper evening of it. Already at that time, the atmosphere will be building and the place will be getting busy. Unlike Luxembourg City in general, the Schueberfouer is not restricted to the weekends, but is genuinely busy seven nights a week. It is best to walk around the whole of the grounds first to make a note of whatever attractions you want to see, and to sample the vibe of the fair. It is also probably advisable to get the urge to go on any of the rides out of your system before dining, or if not, waiting for about an hour afterwards!

There are many types of food available, from traditional Luxembourgish and German sausages to Doner Kebabs, Confectionary and, as is part of the Schueberfouer tradition, Schappnougat. For a bona fide Schueberfouer meal however, the best bet is to go to Friture Armand (possibly the largest restaurant present, and certainly one of the most famous in Luxembourg) and eat a Gebaackene Fesch with fries, washed down with a large beer or local wine. The fish itself is not dissimilar to the fish and chips served in the United Kingdom or Ireland except that in this case the fish is deep fried whole and can be tricky to eat for the uninitiated. It is enjoyable, although doubts persist as to whether one would want to eat it every day. The same goes for the major alternative: Luxembourgish Grillwurst with Grompere Kichelen, a smooth local sausage served with traditionally spiced potato cakes that have a hugely impressive grease and fat content, which may go some way towards explaining why they have such exceptional mouthfeel when served freshly cooked (and congeal very easily when cold). The sausages and potato cakes make for a cheaper alternative and can be purchased from any number of stands dotted around the Scheuberfouer, and should also be washed down with a beer or even a glass of Crémant, also available from the stands.

The Scheuberfouer is cherished in Luxembourg: everyone looks forward to it, from children keen to experience the newest extreme rides to adults driven by the nostalgia of remembering when they were those children. The party atmosphere is not like anything that can be experienced anywhere else: it is uniquely Luxembourgish with an innocence and sense of anticipation that it is difficult to be cynical about. The whole thing is a feast for the senses in its own way. If you are in Luxembourg from the 23rd of August until the 10th of September I urge you to go. You may just be surprised at yourself and the inhabitants of this little country.

1 Comment

  1. Denisa Bobeica says:

    Hello, I want to participate to the Fair as a producer of handmade products in romanian style.How can I do?Thank you.
    Denisa Bobeica

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