Written by Gabriele Vosseberg, NUBS Deputy Director
I still miss Germany – in particular during Karneval in February. You are surprised?
Yes, Germany is well known for its Christmas Markets and possibly even for the wine harvest season, but few people seem to know that February is a very illustrious time in Germany, which may be hard to imagine for 2 reasons: Germans are reputed not to have any sense of humour (no idea why!?) and the weather is almost always cold, windy and often freezing cold. In Germany this season is often referred to as the 5th season of the year: February is the peak of the Karneval’s season – with six days devoted to intense Karneval celebrations.
Karneval around the world
Different concepts of Karneval exist around the world: Carnival in Rio De Janeiro, Carnival in Venice and Mardi Gras in the USA – these are all well-known versions of carnival, but there is also a strong tradition in Germany of Karneval, Fasching or Fastnacht.
The Southwest of Germany, Bavaria, Austria and German-speaking Switzerland celebrate Fasching or Fastnacht which are versions of carnival where costumes use elaborate carved wooden masks depicting devils, witches and animals. These figures and masks are worn to drive out evil spirits and scare away the winter – and scary they are ….
History of Karneval
The celebrations of Karneval most prevalent in the Rhineland were heavily influenced by the perceived need to poke fun at the French occupants in the late 18th century; later it provided an opportunity to mock the Prussian military, which governed this region along the Rhine after the French occupation. During Karnival, people in this region dressed up in the uniforms of Prussian soldiers as a form of protest and satire of the Prussian rulers. This tradition has been passed down to the contemporary Carnival clubs, many of which have their own “regiment”, military banners complete with marching bands and dancing female guard members called ‘Funkenmariechens’. I vaguely remember dressing up as a Funkenmariechen for one of the many school-based Karneval parties that used to happen. I wonder whether many girls still do that today?
But Karneval has evolved over the years – Karneval processions in Cologne, Düsseldorf and Mainz can be 3 to 4 km long and are made up of floats that mock politicians (national and international) and their policies. It‘s a long time that I have been able to attend any such events, but I remember these to be much fun and traditionally quite raucous events. However, in 2021 Rosenmontag in Germany looked very different. The big celebrations did not take place and people stayed at home, but some entertainment was still provided: a small number of floats were sent through Düsseldorf city, as individual floats rather than a parade and apparently on routes that were kept secret in advance to avoid any crowds from gathering.
It’s these parades that I miss attending. They are a fantastic opportunity to socialise with friends and complete strangers who will become your best friends, even if it is only for the duration of the parade itself.
Yes, it is true: Germans do have a sense of humour.