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Intangible cultural heritage

Traditions, knoweldge, craftsmanship techniques  
Photo: © UNESCO/James Muriuki

The “Steyrer Kripperl” nativity play
Performing arts in Upper Austria, inscribed 2018

The Steyrer Kripperl is one of the German-speaking world’s last remaining plays for rod puppets. It has been performed for over a century in a permanent location, the building known as the Innerberger Stadl, during the Christmas season by over 20 members of the association Heimatpflege Steyr. This practice involves orally passed down texts performed in the dialect spoken in Steyr and original rod puppets that are manipulated by hand.

The nativity scene known as the Steinbacher Kripperl, created by master tailor Ignaz Sageder, passed via his heirs to the inn Zur Goldenen Sense in Steyr’s Steyrdorf quarter, where it was used for performances until 1899. 1923 saw it move to its present venue, the Innerberger Stadl. Since then, the orally passed down scenes and spoken lines—which are given diverse and contemporary variations despite their traditional anchoring—have been performed at Christmas. The rod puppets are manipulated by hand from below, as are the tools and equipment of Steyr’s crafts- and tradespeople (such as polishers, farriers, etc.), who are also represented in puppet-form. To this day, the play is performed using the original puppets, with new ones being made only when the play itself is given new twists.

The play is performed in the local dialect of Steyr, some elements of which have only been preserved as part of the Steyrer Kripperl. The compilation of a Steyrer-Kripperl dictionary, currently in progress, is intended to additionally help combat the loss of knowledge about specialised dialect expressions. The play’s director (who, for the past 60 years, has been Gerhard Nezbeda), is responsible for coordinating the performance and for training new participants. The oldest performer is currently an 83-year-old woman, while the youngest is a 13-year-old boy. In order to continue making the Steyrer Kripperl (better) known to new audiences and young people, constant work is being done on new performances that include contemporary themes. Other activities, such as Steyrer Kripperl-themed educational tours, the play’s documentation by a University of Graz research project, and many further efforts are part of the existing and planned measures for the Steyrer Kripperl’s preservation. 


Wolfgang Hack
4400 Steyr



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