Gluttons for Charity
The Bon Bon Ball: Austrian Celebrities Induldge Their Sweet Tooth For A Good Cause
The Konzerthaus was pink, lit up like an enormous Manner Schnitte for the 58th annual Bonbonball. At the door, 4,000 young women in candy colored dresses and young men in dark suits received large cloth sacks for the candy offered by "Sissi," "Johann Strauss," the Jelly Belly Man, and giddy girls passing out new varieties of sweets. This ball for candy and chocolate makers is always a highpoint of the Fasching season.
Always on the last Friday in Fasching, the days leading up to the beginning of Lent, the ball has been historically not only a night of sugar highs, champagne, and sweet drinks like Piña Coladas, Mojitos, and Caipirinha. The organizer, Heinz Alphonsus, keeps the frivolity balanced with charity, donating one euro from each ticket sold to "Der Kleine Nazareno," an organisation that builds farm housing for homeless Brazilian children. Eskimo sells their "Cornetto" ice cream at the ball for the same cause.
This year the ball was held in the name of Brazil, under the patronage of ambassador, his Excellency Celso Marcos Vieira de Souza. Still the opening quadrille in the main hall began traditionally, with a polonaise from the students of the dance school Prof. Wagner after a parade of candy came bobbling across the floor. Lindt chocolates, Sissi, the Haribo Gold Bear, the lady from Casali complete with the Carmen Miranda tutti-frutti hat, even a Küfferle Schirmchen. Eyes widened when platform-shoed Samba dancers came shaking their "bonbons" across the stage in barely-there beaded costumes to rapid pulsing drumbeats and whistles.
ORF’s talk-queen Barbara Karlich, clad in hot pink, moderated the event that began at 20:00 and continued on, as is traditional, until 04:00. Down to earth and bubbling with enthusiasm, she managed to awaken the inner child in hundreds of ball guests, sending them diving on top of each other every half hour to claw open prize containing balloons that fell from the ceiling. This reporter gave it a try, tugging on what seemed to be a piece of white balloon, and ended up being another woman’s dress.
The women grew more aggressive by the third balloon shower and men clumsier. One lady, pushed down by the crowd, crashed into another woman’s table. The seated guest shot up and smacked her. It was a glorified sandbox. One man elbowed his neighbor in the ribs, another was poked savagely in the eye by a diving gentleman…Apparently by accident. It is incredible what a balloon can provoke.
The ball also had the naïve magic of a high school prom, and the tragic sobs of a pageant. Between the balloon clusters, the rhythmically restrained Vienna Ballroom Orchestra and the Christina Aguilera slow songs, dancing felt and looked awkward. The Nivea beauty station swept the ladies’ hair into twists and curls, and powdered their faces. The gentleman looked on, partly excited and partly intoxicated from inhaling the cloud of hairspray.
Some of these young ladies entered the annual "Miss Bonbon" competition, for many a highpoint, for others a tearful moment. The top ten candidates are selected from 160 entrants, based on a quick twirl and simple questions. The chairman, Heinz Alphonsus, led known media figures from Radio Arabella, Kurier, Ö3, ATV, Seitenblicke, and Woman, to decide on the winner before an attentive public.
Candidates strutted individually across the stage before the jury after Barbara Karlich asked questions about school, age, and nationality. The jury members held up signs with points for each contestant, some scores confidence-crushingly low. The new Miss Bonbon was weighed and given the equivalent weight in Manner Schnitten, which she was then to donate to a good cause. This year, 648 Schnitten went to the St. Anna Kinderspital.
The winner — a 23 year-old law and sinology student — sat with her crown surrounded by photographers, while other girls stormed out, sobbing. They too would like to travel around the world, representing Manner candies.
Some guests steered clear of the pageant, dancing to hot Caribbean rhythms in the Habana Son Club complete with fake palm trees, or rock’n’roll in the Radio Arabella Disco. After 02:00 most of the guests were staying with the modern grooves.
By the night’s end, the main hall looked ragged, strewn with balloon shards. Tired couples tottered sleepily together, some barefoot, worn from sugar and champagne. It was time to go home and rest — until the next ball at least.