An annual local fair in Pickaway County that draws thousands of people from all over the country is coming at the end of April, but a lot of people in the area don’t know what it’s about. It’s called the Ashville Viking Festival and it will be on April 28 & 29 in The Ashville Community Park. The free fair appeals to those having fun playing a viking with plastic horns and swords, historically accurate viking reenactors, and reenactors from other time periods including medieval times or even World War II. The festival is unique in that it combines the thrill of a fantasy based Renaissance Festival with historically accurate reenactors. The kids come for the fun, but are surrounded by opportunities to learn about real history in an immersive environment.
Roger Bechtel from London, Ohio, has been a Landsknecht reenactor for 16 years and is the reenactors coordinator for the Ashville Viking Festival. The German Landsknecht were colorful mercenaries formed by Maximillian I, Holy Roman Emperor in 1493. Roger said, “I’ve always had an interest in history.” In college, he got involved with a World War II reenactment group, but they tactfully told him that he didn’t fit the appearance of a typical WW2 soldier. “They said I could be part of the French Resistance,” Bechtel added. When friends invited him to participate in a Renaissance Fair as a Landsknecht Soldier, he jumped at the opportunity. To make a long story short, a few years later he was running the group.
“Landsknecht is fascinating to me because it’s an unknown aspect of history,” Roger said. Most people are familiar with modern American wars and soldiers, but less familiar with old European history. When people see him, they often ask, “What the heck are you?” Roger said the education piece is part of the fun. He likes it when people say, “Oh, I didn’t know that.” There are only 5 Landsknecht reenactment groups in the United States that Roger knows of, but there are thousands portraying Landsknecht in Europe, primarly in Germany, because it’s part of their local history.
Roger said he’s drawn to the Landsknecht, because they established many traditions and customs of modern standing national armies, such as a logistics officer. Because the Landsknecht were still mercenaries, they were paid handsomely, but responsible for their own gear and food. Before this time period, informal trains would trail the army to provide these services, like leather making and weapon smithing. This is the first army to assign an officer to organize the train. They made sure all the services were available so the soldiers could be well equipped, fed, and happy. Often, the families of the soldiers would be employed in these trains, following the soldiers. What this means for the reenactors is that they can involve the whole family in the weekend events and maintain historic accuracy. Roger said, “A lot of other reenactors’ wives joke about being a reenactor widow, because there’s no role for them in something like a World War II reenactment.” But that’s not an issue for the Landsknecht reenactors.
Roger said his wife and daughter also reenact. His wife is an embroiderer in real life, and she also plays that role in the fairs. She’s also learned other historically accurate roles and skills. “My daughter has been traveling along with us since she was 2…. months,” Roger joked. His daughter can do the weapons demo, medical presentation, and can demonstrate gambling of the period all by herself. Roger boasts, “She will gamble you under the table!”
Roger and his family attend 5-6 events per year. The Viking Festival is always their first, and it gives them a chance to get ready for the season. He said there’s not a lot of events for this specific time period, so he’s thankful that the Viking Festival holds a timeline. A timeline is an event where multiple time periods are represented. He said they also travel to Fort Wayne – Indiana, Fort Meigs – Ohio, the Ohio Village in Columbus, and a festival in Indianapolis.
Roger said that he’s a regular at The Viking Festival because it’s unique in the world of Renaissance fairs and live history events. Typically, a Renaissance fair, a time-specific live history event, and a timeline event (multiple timelines) will be seperate. The Viking Festival is one of the only events that combines them all into a single festival. He said it’s great because you have people coming out dressed as fairies, enjoying the fantasy aspect of a Ren Fair, and they get introduced to the living history side of things. “It’s one venue where you can experience both sides,” said Roger. “It’s about watching that wonder in their eye when you teach them something new and interesting about history,” Roger added.
There’s a fun venue for kids and adults to learn about history through living history and reenactment right in our community. This year it’s on April 28-29, located at the Ashville Park. Roger encouraged everyone to come out and eat, have fun, and perhaps, learn something new about history. He said that people still come out if it’s raining. He said attendees are used to having unpredictable weather, and it’s part of the experience.