KRAMPUSLAUF PHILADELPHIA VOICES: MICHAEL DE LIA (talking with ben levin)
in our very first year, in 2011, i remember turning a corner in our original procession route — and there was a man with two clearly authentic and antique krampus puppets, bouncing on wires. i was so moved. i had never seen this person before in my life, and there he was — he had gotten AHEAD of us on our own route, and had surprised US!
now there is NO ONE who has ever been to krampuslauf philadelphia who doesn’t recognize Michael the Researcher. he comes with his own mini-museum, and YES, even in the blizzard of 2013!
this one-man historical society is this fortnight’s KRAMPUSLAUF PHILADELPHIA VOICE. michael shares a lot of krampuslauf philadelphia’s core values. what a gift to have had him discover us, and we look forward to him every season.
listen to the conversation as it is embedded below, or on soundcloud.
BL: This is Ben, and I’m speaking with Michael DeLia. Welcome!
MD: Thank you!
BL: So, let’s start with – what was it about Krampus in particular that you already knew about?
MD: I had known that he was the companion of Nikolaus; my mother was born and raised in Germany, and I used to tag along with her when she would go back in the 1970s and 1980s. I went one more time with her in the 1990s for a funeral, for her mother, and then in the 2000’s I started going to Germany and Austria on my own, and in 2002, I discovered in the museum in …… the Christmas museum, I discovered Krampus, and there were a number of decorations, and miniatures of him and I learned about the story about how he would accompany Nikolaus on his journey to all the homes, and I had gone to visit Germany two more years, and I brought back some of the souvenirs, and my mother and I went together again in 2004. We were in the Austrian mountain resort city of Tannheimer Tal (at the German Christmas Museum, or Deutsches Weihnachtsmuseum in Rothenburg Ob Der Tauber)… and specifically on December 6th, and there we saw Nikolaus and Krampus, and years later I brought the story to America; I mentioned it to people and they were surprised to see me decorate with this devil-looking character, and I explained it was not the Devil, it was actually this companion of Nikolaus. And everyone was interested in hearing that story; and I’d always wanted to in some way bring the story of Krampus to the people here in America at the level that you have done; I was definitely glad to see your group putting on this event in Philadelphia.
When I mentioned Krampus to my mother – came home with the story – and the way that I explained it, she recognized it – the only difference was since she was from Germany in a city, she knew the companion of Nikolaus as Knecht Ruprecht. So after I explained it all she said “Well, I never grew up with Krampus, but I grew up with Knecht Ruprecht,” who was the German equivalent, and he was just a kind of an old, or grumpy man, who was dressed all in black or maybe grey, torn-up clothing, and she recalled how that, in the 1940s, she was in an all-girls’ school, and Nikolaus came in, giving presents and candies and pieces of fruit to the good kids, and Knecht Ruprecht came in and took this bad little girl away – and she knew and the others knew that this was a kid who had always caused trouble. Knecht Ruprecht actually grabbed her and took her out of the room. And she was crying and screaming, and it certainly left an impression on my mother. And the people in the classroom. That was what was done in the 1940s when it came to Knecht Ruprecht. I’m assuming Krampus in Austria had the same type of ordeal in those classrooms.
BL: I remember when we first came across you at the Krampuslauf you had a table. And you had a lot of memorabilia and stuff to show. What sort of is the story behind that?
MD: I’m the kind of person who likes to set up displays. If there’s an area that I’m interested in, I would want to purchase specific items so I could tell the story and provide visual aids. And the first year I brought with me these two wooden toys, where there was a coil attached to a ring so they would bounce up and down, and I brought two pieces of paper that I carefully took off of Lebkuchen that I picked up in I believe Salzburg, Austria back in 2002 or 2003. I brought those two to the first one, then the next one I set up the displays, and then a year later we had the snowstorm, so I set up a very minor display inside of a kind of makeshift tent or area with kind of like a tarp over it, and then last year, I had a wider display with some of the wooden handicrafts of Germany and Austria. I try to add a little bit, try to spice it up, and to give a little picture of what takes place over in those European countries. Of course the focus is always on Krampus, with, again, the pieces of paper that are on the Lebkuchen, or postcards, figurines, ornaments, different objects pertaining to Krampusnacht or Nikolaustag, since they are connected.
BL: Amber tells me that her first encounter with you, she was turning a corner on the first procession, and you were there, with the puppets.
MD: Yes! As a matter of fact I’m lucky, because I did catch it – I was almost late, because at that point I was not sure exactly where that park was. I know certain parts of Philadelphia and I was not familiar with that one. So I was lucky; I did catch the event. I’m not sure what I would have done with myself if I’d missed it ‘cause to me, that was huge. The fact that there was someone putting on a Krampus parade or Krampuslauf here in America, so I consider myself very fortunate that I was able to make it to that event. And you are right, I was standing there with those figurines bouncing up and down.
BL: It made a big impact. What, for you, has been the biggest part of it, over the years?
MD: I would say the overall contribution. There are people there who do provide kind of a unique experience, they bring their own unique experience. There’s someone who made that piece of wood with the image of Krampus and the children captured and people can put their own faces in, for photographs… that background image that someone made, each year people are really upping the ante with the costumes, that become more elaborate, and of course if someone just wants to make a quick mask out of construction paper that certainly works too. There is charm in a very basic mask, and there’s also charm in a mask that is very elaborate as well. Certainly now there are fire dancers who are putting on a show… yeah, I would say just the fact that people are there, and they are contributing, in some way, and of course I bring the old antique items and some of the modern imports with me.
BL: From a historical perspective, I’ve noticed that historical recreation is a theme with you; how does that fit in with your experience of Krampuslauf?
MD: Certainly I do collect objects and different antiques from European countries. They have a longer history than we have here in America, so their antique stores are like our museums. And it’s just one aspect of capturing or creating a mini-museum of old Europe, here in America. It’s just great to be able to own these items, and of course, to bring them out. Certainly they do me little good if I’m just keeping them to myself. I do always enjoy taking them out and showing them to people and making displays. And certainly I decorate with them myself, I just take it to the next level to show them to other people as well. And that’s why I thought it would be an important addition to have those displays and that is why I had mentioned at the first event, when I had those few objects with me, I had mentioned that in the event that would be upcoming the following year, I could certainly create a display, I would have no problem with that at all, and I sent a sample photo of what I had to the group on the internet, and I remember asking Amber, “What do you think? Here are the items, here’s some items that I have, do you you have any room in the park at all?” And she said “For that, we’ll definitely make room.” So it was good. I showed up with it, and it worked out well, and the feedback that I’ve received from it from Amber was that a lot of people were glad to see it, and in some cases it had been a highlight for some people, to see kind of that mini Krampus museum there in the park.
BL: Along those lines, what is something you haven’t seen at Krampuslauf Philadelphia yet, that you would either like to see or that you would just feel pleasantly surprised to see if it showed up?
MD: I know that there was a question asked, I think last year, about Knecht Ruprecht. I was looking at photos of Krampus, I think I just typed “Krampus” into a search engine and I clicked the photo section, and noticed someone. There were a bunch of people dressed up as Krampus, different styles, and I saw this grumpy man, and I called my mother over and I said “Who do you think this guy looks like?” and she said, “Knecht Ruprecht.” And I know someone asked about that, or inquired about showing up in that costume last year. That would be incredible. Just seeing the two together. I was really blown away when I saw that photograph on the Internet. There are different forms, certainly. Krampus has a number of names: Hans Muff, Hans Tropp, Nickel, Belsnickle, Pelznickel, Pelzmärtel – there are a number of stories, and a lot of them are regional. Different mountain areas… it would be neat to see a lot of these different versions in one place.
BL: What is something that you would want someone who hasn’t been to Krampuslauf Philadelphia yet to think about, that they might think about on their own?
MD: I would tell them they better be good, because if Nikolaus does not stop by, certainly Krampus will. Stop by their homes, that is.
BL: Alright! Is there anything else that you wanted to cover that we haven’t talked about yet?
MD: I suppose the only comment is to say once again, it’s incredible that your group is putting on Krampuslauf. I had been waiting for this for years, ever since I had heard about Krampus, and I think it’s a great way to make the month of December a little different for people. It’s a way for them to learn about a different cultural practice; certainly this comes from old Europe, and when Saint Nikolaus or Bishop Nikolaus came over here, I’m sure Krampus was debated and people in this New World thought that Krampus may be a bit much, so Krampus finally made it, and it’s just another way to observe the various holidays in December. So once again I think it is excellent that your group decided to bring this here, in Philadelphia, and every year the events have turned out great, it’s worked out very well, and each year seems to build upon the previous year, not withstanding that fork in the road with the snowstorm – but then again, the snowstorm did provide that effect, and as Amber said “Okay, we had our snowstorm, we finally had it, so one time is enough.”
BL: Well thank you for coming every year. You have been a huge contribution and thank you for talking with me tonight!
MD: I would not miss this event for the world, it’s been great, the time always flies, here we are in October, so the event will be, once again, it will happen in two months, and I’m looking forward to it. And thank you, for the opportunity as well. I always enjoy setting up.
BL: Looking forward to having you there!