Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Carnival 1997: Germany

This is the fourth installment in an 8-part series about Carnival

Dateline: GERMANY, Monday, February 10, 1997 (Rosenmontag)

So far in our Carnival journey, we have walked from humble beginnings in Nebraska to French-influenced Mardis Gras in New Orleans and Roman Catholic Carnavale in Italy. Now we branch out from Rome to Germany. The former Roman settlements of Cologne, Bonn and Mainz still celebrate Carnival, where it is also known as the “fifth season.” Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter, and then Carnival--the annual rebirth of the world. 

Actually, Carnival goes by many names in Germany, depending on the region and dialect. The Rhineland has its Karneval, Austria, Bavaria and Berlin calls theirs Fasching (FAH-shing), and the German Swiss celebrate Fastnacht. Whether you call it Fastnacht, Fasching or Karneval, this season is a time for revelry, humor, and satire. Although its origins go back to ancient pagan times, it is the Romans and the Italians to whom the Germans owe many aspects of their celebration.

I was fortunate to be stationed in Germany 3 times during my military career. The first time (1985-'86), my actual duty was in a remote outpost in Muslim Turkey, which was a great experience--though for reasons of religious preference it does not figure into this story. The third tour (1998-2000) I was located in Bavaria, but I stayed pretty busy during that time (road trips to Albania and Kosovo) and have no recollection of Carnival. However, my second adventure in Germany (1997-'98) was centered at Panzer Kaserne, in the city of Kaiserslautern, in the state of Rhineland-Palatinate (Budesland Rheinland-Pfalz), which borders France, Luxembourg, and Belgium. And that, gentle readers, was a grand place for a party.

The Carnival season in Germany ("Fifth Season") officially begins on November 11th, at 11:11 a.m. In this magic hour, the "Council of Eleven" comes together to plan the events for the upcoming festivities. The official hats of the councils' members: Colorful fool's caps with little bells. Their duties: organize the actual celebrations of the German carnival which all take place the week before Lent begins--about 40 days before Easter. These festivities are the last big party before Ash Wednesday and the beginning of Lent. There are events, parades, and traditional activities that fill the week of revelry.

Women’s Carnival Thursday
The celebrations kick off with "Women’s Carnival" on Thursday before Ash Wednesday. Ladies love this day: they can kiss any man they like--after cutting off his tie. The pretty German secretary in our office at Panzer Kaserne had a collection of at least 40 snipped ties she'd nailed to her office wall as a testament to her prowess. Women's Carnival is known by many named in Germany: der Weiberfastnacht, Fastelabend, Schmutziger, Donnerstagor, Schmotzige, Dunschstig, Dorendonderdach, feister Phinztag, gumpiger Donstag, kleine Fastnacht (Oberrhein), fetter Donnerstag, schwerer Donnerstag (Rheinland),Semperstag, tumbe Fassnacht, unsinniger Donnerstag, Weiberdonnerstag, wuetig Donnerstag, Wuscheltag (Basel), Zemperstag, Zimpertag.

Rose Monday
There are parades and feasts on Saturday and Sunday but the next major highlight is Rose Monday: Marching bands, dancers, and floats parade down the streets, throwing confetti, sweets, and toys. The elaborate floats often show caricatured figures mocking politicians and other personalities. Thousands of dressed-up Germans flock the streets every year to watch this spectacle. The capital of the German state of Rhineland-Palatinate is Mainz, and the region's most spectacular celebrations occurred there. We made the 80 km trek from Kaiserslautern to Mainz by train to observe and participate.

This video was published in Jan 2013, but it brought back some great memories for me.  Note that shouts of “Helau!” — the traditional Mainz Carnival greeting — fill the air.




Rose Monday der Rosenmontag, and the Rose Monday Parade der Rosenmontagumzug is a big deal. Rosenmontag actually has nothing to do with roses, but is derived from rasen, to rave or rage! This is the big parade day for Karneval in Cologne and Mainz, while Fasching in the south reaches its climax on Shrove Tuesday (Mardi Gras, "Fat Tuesday"). Shrove Tuesday is also known as der Fastnachtsdienstag, der Faschingsdienstag


Shrove Tuesday
Almost every German city celebrates Carnival and organizes a Shrove Tuesday street parade in its city center. The best and most traditional Carnival festivities take place in Cologne, Düsseldorf, Münster, and Aachen.

On Shrove Tuesday evening, costume balls are held all over Germany. Special treats are made to enjoy prior to the fast of Lent. These treats usually contain the last of the pantry's lard and sugar. The quiet Ash Wednesday marks the end of the frenzied fun.

Enjoy life! The earth is reborn! Mardi Gras! Or, as we say in Mainz,

“Helau! Helau! Helau!”