Mining Traditions: The Ledersprung
As in many mining communities, the Ledersprung (Leather Jump) in Altaussee stems centuries long tradition. During this ceremony, each miner quite literally leaps into their new profession and is simultaneously accepted into the community of fellow miners.
A good example of the nature of this community, which often has close bonds outside the workplace as well, is the Bruderlade, a miners’ union of sorts. Every miner is eligible to join and voluntarily contributes a percentage of their salary to the organization. In turn, this gives them the right to certain support services in the event of illness or disability. This old form of social safety net exists to this day as a kind of supplemental health insurance in Altaussee, Ischl, and Hallstatt.
The Ledersprung in its current form originally came to Austria in 1848 from Schemnitz (Banská Štiavnica) in today’s Slovakia. In that year of revolutionary upheaval, students and professors were forced to leave their homeland, bringing their customs and traditions with them. Rites of passage required for acceptance into specific trade guilds have been around for hundreds of years and are, in some instances, still practiced today. Naturally, this custom remains strong in the mining community.
In Altaussee, the Ledersprung is carried out as follows:
After a prayer service in Saint Barbara’s Chapel on or around the 4th of December (Saint Barbara’s Day), including music performed by the Altaussee mine band, the miners make their way over to a local inn. After enjoying a meal together, the miners begin the Ledersprung ceremony.
The master of ceremonies is the highest-ranking mining official in attendance. As a rule, this is most often the head of the local mining authority, the Berghauptmann, or an appointed representative. After a fanfare by the brass quartet, the Berghauptmann steps onto a beer keg, welcomes those present and reads the following poem:
Am hohen Fest der Barbara, Glück Auf! ihr Bergleut‘ alle!
Gegrüßet seid von fern‘ und nah‘ mit frohem lautem Schalle.
Vom Abbau erklang der Hämmerschlag, es füllen sich die Hunte,
das Erz das stieg herauf vom Schacht, Stund um Stunde.
Gesilbert hat so mancher Gang, stand reich mit Erzen offen;
Wo uns der Anbruch nicht gelang, da muss der Bergmann hoffen.
Drum lebe was den Kittel trägt, und unser blankes Leder,
wer mit der Faust das Eisen schlägt, auch alle von der Feder.
Hilf weiter uns „Sankt Barbara“, wie in vergangnen Jahren,
dann wird zu deinem Lobe ja, so oft noch eingefahren.
In honor of St. Barbara, Glück Auf! you miners all!
Greetings to you from far and near with our loud, joyous call.
Ringing miners’ hammers pound, the filling mine carts tower,
laden with ore that rises from shafts, hour by hour.
So has silvered many a hall, stood open rich with ores;
yet where the first strikes don’t succeed, a miners hope still soars.
Long live those donning our uniform and our blank leather,
who with their fists the iron pound, as well as those of the feather.
Help us still St. Barbara, as in those years long past,
that our descent in praise of your name for many years may last.
Finally, the Berghauptmann empties a glass of beer and, as an example for the other miners, jumps from the barrel and over the leather strap being held by the most senior miner in attendance and the mine manager. This symbolizes the solidarity of the miners who – whether academics or manual laborers – are all united within a single community.
The candidates now line up and climb onto the keg one by one. Whereupon the master of ceremonies asks each of them four simple questions:
A: Sepp Bergmann
A: The tracks in the mountain rust if the carts don't run across them. A miner's life grows dim without a drink every now and then!
The other miners applaud – the volume of their cheering depends the creativity of the motto. At this point, the master of ceremonies hands each candidate a full glass of beer and summons them to drain the entire glass in a single draught. The audience urges the candidates on with encouraging cheers. The empty glass is handed over (though it once would have been thrown and shattered on the ground), and the master of ceremonies commands: “Nun spring in deinen Stand und halt‘ ihn stets in Ehren,” – “Now leap into your profession and honor it always.” And indeed, the candidate leaps from the barrel, over the leather strap, and into their mining career.
This celebration continues as a high-spirited evening filled with live music and entertainment. Hardly surprising considering that miners as a whole – even outside of the Salzkammergut region – are famously a very sociable bunch!