your enjoyment from helmut's diaries...
I think it is actually appropriate to call anything what is fun by the
name of the greatest yearly fun-event the Carnival, Karneval, Fasching or Fastnacht.
Growing up in the Frankenland near the Main river, if
there was a time I was looking more forward too than any other, this must have been
Fastnacht. The time everybody got dressed-up and the people were funny and happy.
Officially carnival preparations started every year on
the 11th of the 11th month at the 11th hour, the 11th minute. Nevertheless, the committees
and subcommittees for the parades, the dances and festivities took a short break during
Christmas and New Year. From there on, until the peak of the Karneval season, during the
week ending with Ash Wednesday, all parties involved stayed busy to get their spectacular
shows onto the road.
In Germany we called it Fastnacht, Karneval or
Fasching, depending on dialect. The people told me the ritual resembled the pagan festival
at the winter solstice when the forces of evil were chased away by noise.
I was also told that it was the Catholic church who
changed the purpose of the pagan ceremonies to become Carnival. The new meaning was
to be a last time to pig-out, to drink and eat, to be happy just before the beginning of
the lent, the traditional Christian fast before Easter. The meaning of Fast- (to fast)
nacht (night) is "night before the fast". The word Karneval, known as carnival
freely translated comes from the Latin carnevale with the meaning of meat farewell.
Carnival activities are found in many countries. All major Carnival festivities are held
in Catholic areas, worldwide. In Germany the oldest surviving records about Fastnacht are
found in Koeln (Cologne) in a city council document dated March 5, 1341. There it states
that the city council has been taking money from the city treasury to finance Fastnacht.
Around 1823 the first Carnival association
was formed, which brought some order into the Carnival activities. It is said that in 1823
the first a parade was organized in Cologne. This parade did set an example which later
was copied all over the world, known today worldwide as the Rose-Monday parade.
Along the Rhine the Elferrat still meets on 11.11. at 11.11. for the first Carnival
session. There a prince is elected each year from among members of the different carnival
societies. The topic in many towns is a Karnival's prince who reigns over the fools. There
is no written rule for such. It can be a princess instead, or a king or a queen. In
Germany the weekly meetings of the carnival committees build up to a climax during the
three mad days, which start Thursday before Rose Monday. They call these days, three mad
days but in fact they are six days, something that does not matter during
"Fasching" as they call it in Munich.
The Thursday when it all starts to get out of control
is known in Germany as Weiberfastnacht (women's carnival). The market women in Cologne
started this custom in the thirteenth century. Today women's carnival is widely practiced
in Germany. And watch out, this is perhaps the most peculiar part of the merry making and
drunken revelry accompanying the days to come. On Thursday and only on this Thursday women
in Cologne and other German towns are taking absolute total charge of the Carnival
activities. It is a day when the feminine sex will take no "No!" for an answer.
Here the women issue the invitations for beer, liquor,
dance, flirting and laughing. Women are then in charge of the jokes. The poking fun of the
male sex and often their own husband is a common procedure. For many parts of Germany the
Fastnacht means dressing up for the kids as well. It is common knowledge that there are
five seasons: Spring, summer, autumn, winter and Karneval.
During Fastnacht bars and dance-halls are open
twenty-four hours. Only the bravest are able to weather the "three mad days"
without much sleep. Joie de vivre and folly flourish in streets and squares, offices,
flats, inns and dance halls. The Carnival procession held on Rosenmontag (Rose
Monday) is a grand spectacle. The streets are lined with singing, swaying people - from
the early hours on - waiting for the parades to start. Many of the ones crowding the
street haven't slept all night. It's all one big party. Typical for Cologne is a many
kilometer long parade. On carts, cars and coaches over-life-size dummies are displayed,
representing the kind of humor found in the daily life of the people. The designers and
builders of these floats make fun of many situations of national interest as well as
international events. The short gaps between the show- carts are occupied by marching
brass bands, fifty to a hundred different bands are common. There are costumed groups on
foot, horses and riders, the main coach is the one with the princess.
Of course, carnival is not limited to big cities like
Cologne, throughout Germany even small towns have their carnival procession, their prince
and princess and their own dances and festivities. The carnival masks and costumes
range from old carved wooden masks hundreds of years old to anything the fantasy of the
participant can find, design and wear. Due to the colder weather sparsely clothed men or
women are seldom found on the streets. Yet just go join the party indoors where you will
find proper working heating systems and costumes as skimpy as the organizer can allow
considering the circumstances.
The second part of my growing up was in Hamburg, in
Northern Germany. Here during my apprenticeships I visited many Karneval functions.
The Carnival festivities in Hamburg were all indoors. This might have been due to the
freezing temperatures outside. Still, only a limited number of townspeople seemed to be
affected by the carneval-virus. People in Hamburg are conservative, cool, reserved, they
seldom show their feelings in front of their peers to outsiders. The international
timetable and climate which are typical for the society in Hamburg do not get interrupted
by Carnival. I personally think the best German Carnival is found along the Rhine river
and is open to the public. I have heard people say that the parades and yearly
carnival festivities date back to the Egyptians and they have told me that the Chinese
were actually the first who had dragon parades every year. I don't know who started
it. Nevertheless, I know that I like the yearly Carnival events.
For me a childhood dream became true 1976 when I was
able to visit the most famous of all the Carnivals, the one in Rio de Janeiro and a second
time in 1979. There were no regular town's activities. Everybody I met was on a high
created by the carnival spirits. Back then they did not hand out condoms at the airport as
they did in 1996. I had to bring my own. But I was greeted with a warm welcome. The summer
temperatures, day and night, asked for a limited amount of clothing. Sandals, shorts and
t-shirt were absolutely sufficient. All streets vibrated with dance and merrymaking. My
ability to speak Portuguese was limited but I felt right at home.
In 1982 I also visited the much praised Carnival in
Mazatlan Mexico. I enjoyed the hospitality of the Mexican people and the craziness of the
tourists who had come like me to go all out, to let their hair down and live it up before
lent. Under the pretense of "It's only for a couple of days, only until Ash
Wednesday!" I have had great unforgettable moments with complete strangers during
Carnival. Within the motto "It doesn't matter!" I have had much fun interacting
with people of different origins and races.
I smile thinking back how much I used to enjoy carnival
under the motto "The merrier the better!" There I had been holding women,
of many shades and many countries in my arms. I have danced away day and night hours in a
trance. I have been able to share with total strangers a common dream "The
let's enjoy life while it's in session."
For anybody who likes a good party, I highly
recommend visiting Carnival festivities at least once in a life time. In North America the
term carnival often means a traveling show, with rides and games of skill. People call
merry-go-rounds and Ferris wheels a carnival too. I think it is actually appropriate to
call anything what is fun by the name of the greatest yearly fun-event the Carnival,
Karneval, Fasching or Fastnacht.
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