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Baked potato soup

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This is honestly the best potato soup I’ve ever made, and it’s perfect for a weeknight meal. This soup takes about 30 minutes  from start to finish. While it’s cooking I put together a quick tossed salad and add in some crusty bread for the perfect family meal. When I make this soup, I like to serve it but leave the sour cream, green onion, and bacon on the side. I serve the toppings like I would with a normal baked potato. Everyone loves adding their own toppings! This baked potato soup recipe is loaded with flavor from bacon, onions and cheese, everything is melded together to make a rich creamy soup! it’s here how to make:

Ingredients: 5-6 slices bacon strips, 1 onion, 2 cloves garlic, potatoes (2 for each person), milk, cheddar cheese, cream, bay leaf, marjoram, 

1.      Fry bacon until crisp (yum!).

2.    Cook onions in the bacon drippings until tender and then add broth and mashed potatoes.

3.      Cook a little bit to blend flavors. Add bay leaf, marjoram, salt and pepper to taste.

4.      Finally this soup is finished off with a splash of buttermilk and of course sharp cheddar cheese.

5.      Top with your favorite toppings including green onions, sour cream, crisp bacon and cheese!

While this recipe tastes like a baked potato  soup fully loaded with cheese and sour cream and bacon, I actually use mashed (or smashed) potatoes, because the mashed potatoes makes it quick & easy and creates a creamy texture. Here is the recipe of the mashed potatoes or potato purée

Instant mashed potatoes

Ingredients: 4 lbs potatoes, 2 cloves fresh garlic (optional), 1/4 cup butter, ½ to 3/4 cup whole milk (or cream), warmed, salt & pepper to taste


1.      Wash, peel & cube potatoes. Boil the potatoes (and garlic if using) and in a large pot of salted water until fork tender (about 15 minutes).

2.      Drain very well and place back into the warm pot.

3.      Mash slightly with a potato masher. Add in butter, warmed milk, salt and pepper. Mash to desired consistency.

When making mashed potatoes for this recipe, I prefer to have the texture to be a little bit more smashed (or chunky) so the soup has texture.bakedpotatosoup



Red Velvet pancake

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Ingredients: 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, 1 teaspoon baking powder, 1/2 teaspoon baking soda, 1/4 teaspoon salt, 3 tablespoons sugar, 2 cups butter milk, 1 1/4 cup whole or low fat milk, 1 large egg, 1 teaspoon vanilla extract, 1 1/2 tablespoons cocoa powder, sifted, 1 tablespoon red food color gel, 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted, + 2 tablespoons cooking oil (for pan)

For the Mascarpone Cream Filling: 500 mL heavy cream, 300 gr mascarpone cheese, 1/2 cup icing sugar, 1 teaspoon vanilla extract, zest of 1 orange (optional, but adds nice tang)+ 1/2 cup raspberry jam (optional, for filling crepes)

For the Chocolate Ganache Topping: 75 gr bittersweet chocolate ,75 ml heavy cream, 1 tablespoon sugar

For the Mascarpone Filling:
1. Using a mixer, mix mascarpone cheese, 1/4 cup sugar, and vanilla until soft and fluffy.  Set aside.
2. Whip cream and remaining sugar to a stiff peak. Carefully fold into the mascarpone cheese until combined. Refrigerate until ready to use.

For the Chocolate Ganache Sauce
1. Place chocolate in a heatproof bowl and set aside. In a small sauce pan, heat cream and sugar to a rolling boil. Remove from heat, and pour over chocolate. Carefully mix until homogenous, and set aside until ready to use. If the ganache sets, re-melt the chocolate over a double boiler.

Directions for the Red Velvet Crepes
In a large bowl stir together flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, and cocoa powder. Set aside. In a separate bowl, whisk together the buttermilk, milk, egg, sugar, melted butter, vanilla extract and food coloring. Whisk until combined.

Pour the liquid ingredients into the mixing bowl with the dry ingredients, and stir with a wooden spoon until the dry ingredients are combined. The batter will be a little runny (think soup). If you find that the batter is too thick and pancake like, add more milk (regular). Make sure the batter is clear of lumps.

With a pastry brush, brush the surface of large (non-stick) skillet with cooking oil. Heat it over medium heat. Test skillet after a couple of minutes by drizzling a few few drops of water onto the cooking surface. If the drops sizzle and evaporate, the surface is hot enough.

Turn the heat down to medium. For each crepe, spoon or ladle about  1/4 cup of the batter into the center of the skillet. Holding onto the handle of the pan, remove it from the heat and swirl the pan so the batter coats the bottom of the pan. You want to make the coating as thin as possible. If you have holes in the crepe, go ahead and add more batter to the pan to cover them. Return to heat.

As the batter cooks, it will dry and lose its shine (2 minutes). Once this happens, use a non-metal spatula and carefully flip the crepe over. Finish cooking the crepe on the other side (45 seconds).

Gently slide the cooked crepe onto an ovenproof plate, and keep the finished crepes warm in an oven set at 195 degrees.

Assembling the Crepes: If using raspberry jam, place a small amount the center of the crepe.  Pipe mascarpone cream filling, and carefully roll. Drizzle with chocolate ganache sauce and dust with icing sugar.valentines-day-food

Witch-hazel blossoming in Vogelsberg

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Vogelsberg (Bird’s hill) is a large volcanic mountain range in the German Central Uplands in the state of Hesse, separated from the Rhön Mountains by the Fulda river valley. Emerging approximately 19 million years ago, the Vogelsberg is Central Europe’s largest basalt formation, consisting of a multitude of layers that descend from their peak in ring-shaped terraces to the base. The main peaks of the Vogelsberg are the Taufstein, 773.0 metres (2,536.1 ft), and Hoherodskopf, 763 meters (2,503 ft), both now within the High Vogelsberg Nature Park.

Vogelsberg is not a former shield volcano, but comprises many individual volcanoes, which are superimposed. Thus it consists of a multitude of overlapping basalt terraces, which descend from the Oberwald, -the high central plateau, 600 to 773 meters high, in series of stepped rings to the edges of the mountain region. Its present appearance, which is reminiscent of a large flat, shield-shaped volcano with a central dome, is the result of an interplay of uplift processes and  ablation acting on all sides. The division of the Vogelsberg into individual  natural regions is based, on the one hand, on the  relief of the mountain range from its highest point towards the outside and, on the other hand, on its river catchments which radiate outwards: the catchments of the Eder, Lower  Fulda, Main and Lahn. The Vogelsberg massif has stone runs of basalt and tuff, raised bogs and areas of ancient woodland. Numerous hiking trails cross, not only the Oberwald, but also the rest of the area.


The Oberwald (351.2) is the heart of the Vogelsberg and is entirely wooded; its outer boundary roughly follows the 600 meter contour line. In outer areas of the Vogelsberg, by contrast, there is a tapestry of green pasture, arable fields and woodlands.

Large parts of the Oberwald are protected. For example, the beech wood in the Taufstein Nature Reserve has been left to manage itself since 1906. On the northern slopes of the Taufstein are large stone runs of basalt.

Numerous rivers and streams rise in the Vogelsberg, and flow radially from its highest point in all directions of the compass. In clockwise order, the rivers of the main catchments are the Schwalm, Lower Fulda, Kinzig, Nidda and Ohm. Often a well known river is fed by several almost equal tributaries. In recent years the Eurasian lynx has returned. There are rumors about wolves being sighted in the region. Sightings have been confirmed in an area north of the Vogelsberg. Wildcats are also said to exist in the region, although they, like lynxes, are notoriously hard to spot. As in most of Hesse, wild boar are present in large numbers.

Vogelsberg’s sport activities

The Vogelsberg is known for its winter sports areas on the Herchenhainer Höhe and Hoherodskopf (Alpine skiing and 55 km of loipes). In summer, apart from hiking, cycling is well catered for on the numerous long-distance cycling routes such as the Volcano Cycleway. Moreover, there are regular RMV buses, the so-called Vulkan Express running from Büdingen, Stockheim, Nidda, Hungen, Mücke and Schlitz via  Lauterbach at weekends to the heights of the Vogelsberg. These buses are equipped with bicycle trailers. The majority of bus routes run to the Hoherodskopf and so may be used in combination.

The Volcano and Southern Railway Cycleways are tarmacked and may also be used by inline skaters. There is a large network of signposted cycleways in and around the Vogelsberg Nature Fitness Park around the highest summits and also 70 km of signed mountain bike routes.

The Hoherodskopf is the touristic centre of the region. Here you will find the Nature Conservation Information Centre for the High Vogelsberg Nature Park and a tourist information centre for the town of Schotten, which are open daily all year-round. From this point, three nature trails have been set up, covering in the fields of geology, nature and sensory perception.  There is a summer toboggan run, a tree ropes course, numerous hiking trails and several restaurants.

What can we see now in the Nature park? The blossoming of the Witch-hazels!

Witch-hazels or witch hazels (Hamamelis), are a genus of flowering plants in the family Hamamelicadea. The North American species are occasionally called winterbloom. (The name witch in witch-hazel has its origins in  Middle English wiche, from the Old English wice, meaning “pliant” or “bendable”, and is not related to the word witch meaning a practitioner of magic “Witch hazel” was used in England as a synonym for Wych Elm . The use of the twigs as divining rods, just as  hazel twigs were used in England, may also have by folk etymology, influenced the “witch” part of the name).

The witch-hazels are deciduous shrubs or (rarely) small trees growing to 10–25 feet tall, rarely to 40 feet tall. The genus name, Hamamelis, means “together with fruit”, referring to the simultaneous occurrence of flowers with the maturing fruit from the previous year. H. virginiana blooms in September–November while the other species bloom from January–March. Each flower has four slender strap-shaped petals, pale to dark yellow, orange, or red. The fruit is a two-part capsule 38 inch (0.95 cm) long, containing a single 14 inch (0.64 cm) glossy black seed in each of the two parts; the capsule splits explosively at maturity in the autumn about 8 months after flowering, ejecting the seeds with sufficient force to fly for distances of up to 30 feet (9.1 m), thus another alternative name “Snapping Hazel”. They are popular ornamental plants, grown for their clusters of rich yellow to orange-red flowers which begin to expand in the autumn as or slightly before the leaves fall, and continue throughout the winter. Numerous cultivars have been selected for use as garden shrubs. hama



Silvester in Burghausen

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Burghausen is not only the world’s longest castle that’s extra long. Burghausen extra long means extra long enjoyment of extra attractions from culture to gastronomy.

The seemingly endless walls, battlements, towers and chapels of the longest castle in the world (1,051 m) stretch over a narrow mountain crest nestled between the romantic Lake Wöhrsee and the glittering Salzach, the alpine river forming the border with Austria. The castle which stands as a witness to over one thousand years of history, is the focus of a visit to Burghausen and a picturesque feast for the senses and the soul. Couple of years ago we decided to escape somewhere on 31 st of December in order to avoid the hustle and stress. Silvester (31st of December) 2018 wasn’t exception. After I saw an amazing picture of the castle of Burghausen it was no question where to go. I booked a hotel in the neighborhood and left on the 30 of December for Burghausen (from München it’s 139 kms). The battlements livened up our expectations.

The six castle courtyards were strung together like a pearl necklace. Every castle courtyard had lots to discover.

In the 6th courtyard

The outermost courtyard mainly housed the administrative offices and places of work, officials’ residences and castle staff quarters. The fortified character of the “Oberer Schanz” (bastions with three bridges) was lost through the damage and modifications which occurred in the 19th century.

Highlights of the 6th courtyard:
Liebenwein Tower with temporary exhibitions by the artists group “Die Burg”
Uhrturm – Clock tower with colorful paintwork and sundial
Rentmeisterstock – The tax collector’s rooms, now home to The House of  Photography
The Öttinger Gate tower (the sole entrance from the north until 1836): Here, the Hofberg hill leads down into the old town

In the 5th courtyard

The highlight of the 5th courtyard is Hedwig’s Chapel. This outer castle chapel (Hedwig’s Chapel) was built by master court and fortress builder Ulrich Pesnitzer between 1479 and 1489 by order of Duke George the Rich and his wife Hedwig.

Further highlights of the 5th courtyard: Gärtnerturm – Gardener’s Tower, which was converted to a viewing tower in 1963, Aussichtspunkt -Vantage point with a view of Lake Wöhrsee

In the 4th courtyard

This castle courtyard was mainly used to house criminals. However, grain was also stored here. Highlights of the 4th courtyard:
Folterturm – Torture Tower and museum
Haberkasten – The stables and oats barn, now home to The Athanor Theatre Academy

In the 3rd courtyard

One particularly striking sight is the master gunsmith’s tower, also popularly known as “Schwurfinger”, referring to the thumb and first two fingers raised to swear an oath.

Further highlights of the 3rd courtyard:
Pfefferbüchsen -Pepper pots, which were used as guard and lookout towers
Altes Zeughaus – The “Old Armoury” was as used as a weapons and munitions arsenal with a silo. Two fabulous vantage points overlooking the old town and Lake Wöhrsee

In the 2nd courtyard

This castle courtyard is the forecourt to the main castle. The “training yard”, where many events and concerts are held in the summer, is also situated here.

Highlights of the 2nd courtyard:
Georgstor – George’s Gate with the Bavarian and Polish coats of arms
Viewing tower overlooking Lake Wöhrsee

1st courtyard – Inner castle courtyard

The first castle courtyard is the centerpiece of the world’s longest castle. Features of the inner castle courtyard, surrounded by a high tuff stone wall, include two museums, Elisabeth’s Chapel and the heated room.

Highlights of the 1st courtyard:
Entrance to the tour in the lower bailey
Dürnitz – Heated room with the “Zehrgaden” (storage room) underneath; this is now home to the visitor information centre
Treasure chamber
Inner castle chapel (Elisabeth’s Chapel)

Furthermore, the world longest castle is home to three museums. The House of Photography, the Town Museum and the State Collection. The Burghausen Town Museum is located in the main castle of the world’s longest castle. After the 2012 Bavarian-Upper Austrian State Exhibition, the permanent exhibition in the Town Museum was re-designed from scratch.

See history brought to life across a total area of 900 m2 through a variety of hands-on exhibits and audio stations. Experience courtly culture on the ground floor and learn all about the town’s history on the second floor.

Once the other areas, the “art city Burghausen” and the Salzach-Wöhrsee nature area, are set up, in a few years’ time the Town Museum will be able to present a total of four subject areas over an area of 1,400 m2.

The history of Burghausen

In the 2nd/1st c. BC it was presumably a Celtic sectional fortification

In the 8th/ 9th c. Presumably the fortified official court of the Agilolfingian dukes for the protection of salt shipping

In the 11th/ 12th c. Seat of the Count of Burghausen (until 1164); first castle expansion under Sighard X of the Aribones (around 1090); Henry the Lion is in possession of the castle; further expansion under the Wittelsbachs (from 1180)

In the 13th c. Completely new facility under Duke Henry XIII of Lower Bavaria after the first partition of Bavaria (1255); second residence of the Dukes of Lower Bavaria after Landshut; border stronghold against Salzburg and Passau; oldest preserved structure (main castle)

In the 14th c. Now fully expanded as a defense facility

In the 15th c. The most important construction period under the last Dukes of Lower Bavaria (Henry the Rich 1393-1450, Ludwig the Rich 1450-1479, George the Rich 1479-1503); expansion of the facility to its current form comes under pressure from the Turkish threat (1480-1490); ducal residence; the castle is a self-contained community (defense and residential castle)

In the 16th c. Loss of the castle’s residential character after the Landshut War of Succession (1503-1505); Princes’ residence (sons of Albert IV the Wise); the castle continues to be of great military importance as a main weapons site; minor modifications; begin of decline

In the 17th c. Fortifications strengthened against the threat of the advancing Swedes (1632)

In the 18th c. Expansion of outer fortifications according to the system of master fortress builder Marshal Sebastian de Vauban (1633-1707); turmoil of the Wars of Succession in the first half of the 18th century; extensive rebuilding (garrison castle from 1763); 1779 Peace of Teschen: Burghausen becomes a border town as the Inn section is lost to Austria

In the 19th c. All outer fortifications torn down by French troops under General Ney (1800-1801); Napoleon declares the castle no longer fit for use as a fortress (1809); modifications, demolition, levelling and privatization of parts of the castle; discharge of the garrison (1891); start of large-scale renovations to the main castle (1896); renovation work on the entire castle facility since 1960/1970.

And at the end we visited the Powder tour

To the west of the castle and Lake Wöhrsee, situated on the Eggenberg, the imposing, robust Powder Tower is a prominent landmark. A guards’ walkway linked the complex with the exposed barbican, built in 1488. With its six gun emplacement platforms, the barbican served to defend the castle and was therefore constructed in front of it. Guns and gunpowder were stored in the tower for defensive purposes. The overall diameter of the building is 18 meters, and the walls are five meters thick on average. In emergencies, stocks and a 22-meters-deep well ensured an independent supply of food and water for the garrison. A beautiful walking trail leads through the old “secret passage”, which starts at the entrance to the Wöhrsee bathing lake and along Alois-Buchleitner-Weg to the castle.

Happy new year to everyone, I wish good health and happiness to all of my readers!!! Cheers!P1170630


“Baci di dama” rice balls

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Everybody loves these cheesy rice balls. The name of the recipe is bit strange since baci di dama is the name of an Italian biscuit. But this recipe with a twist is an Italian classic known as “Arancini”. 

Ingredients for Cheesy Rice Balls (Arancini): 2 tbsp olive oil +2 tbsp unsalted butter
1 med onion (about 1 cup), 1 cup ham, finely diced (about 3 oz) 2 cups medium grain rice such as Jasmine rice (un-rinsed), 1 cup dry white wine such as Chardonnay, 5 cups hot chicken stock reduced sodium
1 tsp salt (we used sea salt) 1 cup frozen peas, thawed 1/3 cup fresh Italian parsley, finely chopped, 1 cup shredded parmesan cheese, 4 oz mozzarella cheese, cut into 24 (1/2-inch) cubes, ham slices, butter, mustard for flavor

Methods: Using a Dutch oven or heavy-bottomed pot with tight fitting lid, over medium/high heat, add 2 tablespoons olive oil and 2 tablespoons butter. When hot, stir in diced onion and sauté until soft and golden (4-5 min). Add finely diced ham and cook another 2 minutes or until meat is golden. Add rice and stir until coated with oil.

Pour in 1 cup white wine and cook until most of it has evaporated (2 min). Add 5 cups hot chicken broth and 1 tsp salt then cover and cook until liquid has been absorbed by the rice (about 15 min).  Stir in the peas in, then cover with a tight fitting lid and finish cooking (2 min). Rice should be soft and the liquid mostly absorbed. Spread rice mixture onto a large rimmed baking dish to cool.

Once rice is cooled, stir in 1/3 cup finely chopped parsley and 1 cup parmesan cheese. Half the amount of rice and place them in two bowls. Add pistachio to one bowl and ground peanuts to the other bowl. Mix well nuts with the rice.

Prepare ham mousse: dice the ham and put into a mixer. Add butter and flavor with a bit of mustard. Mix until creamy.

Form rice balls using a heaping ice cream scoop for each. Stuff each rice ball with a cube of mozzarella cheese, ham mousse etc. and form a tight ball with the rice mixture to enclose the cheese and ham.

These rice balls are such a treat fresh off the stove, stuffed with glorious gooey cheese.

This recipe comes from one of my favorite Italian friend, Luca Zinzula. Thank you Luca for introducing me to this wonderful treat!

Baci Di Dama rice

Christmas à la française

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Every country does Christmas slightly differently, and the French-who, to their credit, rarely do things like the rest of the world-naturally have their own Christmas traditions, that they have just about held on to over the years.

Their festive season stretching out over weeks rather than 48 hours. So if you’re spending Christmas in France this year, or you’re just wondering what the Gallic way of celebrating “Noël” is, then here are ten traditions that mark “Christmas à la française”.

Christmas presents: Obviously the French don’t move Christmas Day around, but they are more flexible when it comes to giving presents. In the north of the country, gifts are offered to kids on December 6th (just like in Belgium where Santa brings the big gift), the feast of St Nicolas. Many families prefer to exchange presents on Christmas Eve and others, who can control their excitement, do the giving and receiving on January 6th, on the Feast of the Kings’day.

Postcards from Père Noël: Letters from French kids to Father Christmas don’t just disappear into dustbins or drawers in France. Since 1962, France has had a law that stipulates any letter to Santa must be responded to in the form of a postcard. The law has no doubt helped boost the myth of Santa Claus among French kids, although it’s doubtful the postmen themselves appreciate all the extra work.

Creche Crazy: The traditional nativity crib is a common sight in households across the world at Christmas, but the French take the “crèche” as it is called, to new levels. It’s not just the usual characters like Baby Jesus, Mary and Joseph, who make an appearance in the French crib, but all kinds of figures, (known as Santons), including vegetable sellers, bakers, men selling roasted chestnuts, local dignitaries, in fact anyone you can think of.

Father slapper: This character has a few different incarnations in countries around Europe, but in France, at least in the north and east of the country, he is known as Père Fouettard. Although social services would be on the lookout for Père Fouettard in 2013, back in the day the “Whipping Father” or “slapping Santa” as he was known, would accompany St. Nicholas and was said to bring a whip with him to spank naughty kids.

Clogs by the Fire: Where as kids in Anglo countries might be more likely to leave a couple of carrots and half a pint of Guinness by the fireplace for Santa and his reindeer, in France youngsters tend to leave their shoes, hoping Père Nöel will fill them to the brim with little presents, sweets, fruit, nuts and anything else that will fit.

Quality not Quantity: More habit than tradition, but when it comes to Christmas shopping the French don’t go as bananas as their Anglo cousins. In France the motto is “quality not quantity,” and people will shop in the traditional Christmas markets as much as in the deluxe stores. There’s no Boxing Day sales either, unlike in Britain. That madness is deferred until the New Year. Having said all that, the sight of shoppers laden with bags is becoming more common.

La Messe de Minuit: France might officially be a secular country, but the tradition of midnight mass lives on. And it’s no surprise, given the array of stunning cathedrals across the country which are often packed to the rafters for a midnight mass, where traditional Christmas carols and hymns are sung to get everyone in the festive mood, and also to work up an appetite.

The Burning of the Yule Log: This custom is seen mainly in the south of France, where families burn a log in their homes from Christmas Eve until New Year’s Day. In the old days, the tradition was that part of the log be used to make the wedge for a family’s plough, in order to bring good luck for the coming harvest. The custom these days, however, is more likely to see families tuck in to the chocolate version of the Yule Log rather than the wooden one.

Christmas Eve Feast: Otherwise known as “Le Reveillon” the big Christmas feast in French families will often take place late on Christmas Eve or even in the early hours of Christmas morning after midnight mass. The menu for the feast will vary depending on the region but Turkey stuffed with chestnuts will be a regular on tables, as will goose, oysters and foie gras.

Galette of Kings: The French mark the 12th day Christmas or the feast of Ephiphany, by scoffing down one final pastry – known as the galette des rois or “cake of kings”. Inside the cake is hidden a charm known as a fève. Whoever finds it in their portion is a king or queen and wins the right to wear the crown and choose their partner. This ritual may sound daft, but it’s still taken very seriously.worlds-best-eclairs-sketch-parlour london

Watch out for the Krampus! Thrills at the Krampus run

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The tradition of the Krampus Run is once again very popular, especially among young people. In spite of the awful weather I participated on it today! It was mega hit as the German friends of mine commented the masks and dances of the Krampuses.krampuslauf-2018-6-hp

Who is that creature?

The Krampus is the scary assistant of kind Saint Nicholas. Whereas the latter likes to turn a blind eye when children are naughty, the Krampus prefers to rattle his chain in a terrifying manner, to attain the required level of respect and to reprimand his disagreeable contemporaries. The Krampus Run dates back 500 years to a tradition from the Alpine regions. As early as the 16th century, the so-called “Klabaufs” paraded around: Schoolchildren, choirmasters and school teachers of the Frauenkirche and St Peter’s church dressed up as bishops and caused so much unrest that the policed had to be summoned. 

The elaborately designed costumes are reordered every year and differ according to the figure portrayed. The “Perchten” who were originally used to drive away the winter, wear between 4 and 10 horns, while the Krampuses can be recognized by their two-horn mask. One costume costs between 1800 and 2500 EUR. But the Krampus outfits are not only expensive but also really heavy to wear. A mask can easily weight up to 10 kilograms – no wonder that the runners are really out of puff after the Krampus run…