A peek into Kaltenberg Tournament in Bavaria

The skilled horsemen are dressed in metal armour and colourful livery much like that worn by knights in medieval times

Photo by Stuart Forster
Photo by Stuart Forster

By Stuart Forster

Published: Fri 28 Oct 2022, 8:14 PM

The hooves of the galloping horses kick up clumps of the Kaltenberg Arena’s all-weather surface. Their rapid thumping against the sand-coloured ground mirrors the excited heartbeats of 13,000 awed spectators who silently look on as lance-wielding riders bear down on each other.

The skilled horsemen are dressed in metal armour and colourful livery much like that worn by knights in medieval times. Centuries ago, mounted warriors dominated Europe’s battlefields. They were drawn from the higher echelons of society. Tournaments evolved as a way for knights to hone their martial skills in times of peace. Regulated by a code of chivalry, competing enabled knights to win honour and renown.

Despite riding at full tilt, the riders hold their unwieldy-looking wooden lances steady. They target their opponent’s shield while masterfully remaining in control of their steed. A split second before onlookers hear the clatter of the lances thumping against shields they witness them shatter into a cloud of splinters. One of the riders rocks back, obviously impacted more heavily than his opponent, then recovers balance. The other raises his arms aloft and celebrates victory.

There’s a momentary delay while spectators in Kaltenberg’s arena process what they’ve just witnessed. Then people break into applause. They also respond with gasps, cheers and wows. In an age when Hollywood’s special effects are the bar by which all other entertainment is measured, the stunt riding of the Kaltenberg Knights’ Tournament has impressed. In fact, many of the riders and performers who are today participating in the jousting and show’s choreographed combat have experience of doing similar on the sets of movies.

For more than 40 years, Kaltenberg Castle has been hosting the spectacle that locals know as the Kaltenberger Ritterturnier. It was established by Prince Luitpold of Bavaria, who lives in the castle. He is a descendant of the dukes and kings who ruled over Bavaria for more than seven centuries, until 1918.

Unfortunately, there’s no documentary evidence that tournaments were held on the grounds of Kaltenberg Castle during the Middle Ages. If they were not, the venue is certainly making up for that now. Kaltenberg Knights’ Tournament has evolved into one of the world’s biggest celebrations of life during the Middle Ages.

Held over multiple dates in July, the family-friendly event attracts thousands of spectators and hundreds of participants to the castle in the normally quiet municipality of Geltendorf. At the end of the S-4 suburban railway line west of Munich, Geltendorf is easy to reach using public transport.

The jousting and medieval-style combat features are part of a narrated show whose storyline changes year-on-year, inspired by myths and legends often repeated by the bards and storytellers who entertained at courts long ago. Pyrotechnics add to the spectacle.

Jesters also perform. They juggle, joke and grimace, entertaining spectators during the procession that precedes the shows. They also engage with people in the medieval-style village near the arena. In fact, on the opening Friday — an evening event geared towards adults — the jesters and musicians take centre stage. Rather than with modern instruments, such as guitars, tunes are belted out using the likes of lutes, flutes and bagpipes.

No strict effort is made to recreate life and the costumes worn at a specific point during medieval times — that would be unduly prescriptive. Instead, the aim is to entertain and provide attendees with an impression of how the Middle Ages may have been. It conveys the colour and the joie de vivre that people would have experienced at the fairs that accompanied tournaments.

Stalls selling silver jewellery, metalware and glass items are staffed by artisans. They are able to demonstrate the skills required to craft items and field questions and interactions from onlookers. In an age when people have become accustomed to the ubiquity of mass-produced goods, it’s thought-provoking to consider a bygone time when every object’s creation required skill and was, because of that, unique.

In common with so many mass-participation events, the Kaltenberg Knights’ Tournament did not take place during the summers of 2020 or 2021 due to the pandemic. The return of knights, jesters and members of the public to the grounds of Kaltenberg Castle is a sure sign that the good old days coming are back.


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