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Germany

The 'hangman' of the Oktoberfest

The guillotine is his daily stock and trade. Hangman Ringo works in a little theater on the Oktoberfest and has over the past 30 years "executed" some 15,000 guests at the world's largest beer fest.

"Don't worry, nothing except the head is going to roll," says the imposing man - complete with pale white makeup and a big hairy mustache. He's sporting a top hat and speaks with heavy Bavarian accent. He's the hangman, the executioner at the Oktoberfest in Munich.

His sidekick on stage is a woman in a black old-fashioned costume. She too wears a top hat. "Whoever is being executed, gets a jelly bag cap, so he won't hear or see what's going on around him," she says. All that's missing now is a victim for their gruesome work.

Sign: today execution (photo: Insa Moog)

The sign reads "Today: execution"

400 performances each year

They go about their job about 25 times on each of the 16 days of the Oktoberfest. The executions are the biggest attraction of the little Schichtl theater, a traditional variety show dating back to 1869. Ringo, currently holding the job as henchman, has been doing it for almost 30 years now, it's routine for him.

The victim for the impressive guillotine is easily found. This time it's a woman picked out of a group dressed in traditional dirndls; on her way to the stage, her friends are laughing and cheering her on. Then, henchman Ringo and his assistant blindfold the young woman and put the executioner's hat over her head.

One, two, three

Hangman Ringo (photo: Insa Moog)

Ringo has been the Oktoberfest hangman for 30 years

"Keep your head straight, that'll make dying easier," Ringo growls and his comments are again sparking laughter and cheering from the crows. The woman is seated on a board behind the guillotine, then has to lie down and put her head in the right position.

The sharp blade sparkles in the spotlights and the audience is going quiet, tense with anticipation. "Well, let's count to three and then the knife will come down and so will the head," the assistant says, now taking the lead on stage. "One, two, three!" she shouts in a broad Bavarian accent. The blade cuts down but, of course, no one's actually getting hurt.

Hangman Ringo can spare a little time for a brief conversation. The next performance is coming up shortly, each show takes about 15 minutes. The execution is the highlight but it's not the only element. There's also magic, dance and juggling going on and in total there's a team of 11 perfomers. What's the daily schedule of an executioner? "It's a 14-hour day and when you're in bed, it takes two hours till you can fall asleep because your head is spinning," says Ringo, whose real name is Hjalmar-Maximilian Praetorius.

Simple means

Crowd before the theater (photo: Insa Moog)

The Schichtl theater has been at the Oktoberfest sind the 19th century

But it's worth it. What makes it special for him is the Oktoberfest atmosphere and that the job he does has such a long tradition. It's all done very simply and without modern electronic effects and still it's something that people have fun with. For the audience - today just as back in the 19th century - it's about experiencing something sensational when they watch a mock execution. Ringo always throws in a bit or humor when he talks about his job.

After the performance there's always immediate feedback - and it's usually positive, says Manfred Schauer, head of the show. "The way the audience reacts tells you that they still enjoy the show although it's been running for 144 years." Schauer took over the business side of the show in 1985. He's also the announcer ahead of performance trying to get people to come in and watch. Since 2007, there's also been a place to eat and drink alongside the little theater.

14,000 'killed'

Schichtsl performer (Photo: Insa Moog)

The show runs every day from dawn to dusk

Praetorius estimates that he has executed some 14,000 people in his career so far. "I've done my share," he laughs. "I wiped out an entire small town." Normally, he'd be a pensioner by now but he says he simply can't stop working with the theater.

How do you become an executioner on the Oktoberfest? Well, there's no job ads out for that kind of position, "it's a job you take over from someone who's done it before and who asks you whether maybe you want to take over." Either you quit after the first season "or you'll keep doing it until you drop." Praetorius' predecessor did it until he turned 92.

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