Thursday, February 23, 2012

Karnival > Halloween

The Germans have recently (the last 10 years or so) the American holiday of Halloween. From what I've seen it is more of a amusement )or reason to have a party) to them than an actual holiday. At first I was surprised that they didn't enjoy it more, it feels like it would be something they would like. But I have recently learned why. Because they have something better... they have Karnival!

For those of you who are not familiar with the event, Karnival is a festive season that is held before lent. It is typically a Catholic tradition and is celebrated world-wide, for those of you in America just think Mardi-Gras. Germany apparently has 2 "types" of Karnival: The Rheinish Karnival (most prominent Karnival in Germany)  and The "Swabian-Alemannic" Karnival (celebrated in the sourthern parts of Germany for when the season of the cold, winter spirits are"hunted down and expelled"). For more Karnival information check out this link.

So enough with the lessons, on with the blog. The largest Karnival in Germany is in Cologne (about 2-3 hours away). We were invited to join a group of our Fulbright friends that were celebrating there.... we declined however. But Braunschweig has the fourth largest celebration in Germany, and is actually the largest celebration in Northern Germany.

So on Feb. 19th Mariko and I bundled up and made our way to the parade path. Being Karnival we knew that we had to dress up in some way....of course we really didn't plan too well and didn't have any thing in mind until the day before. Mariko dressed as a black cat and tried to go as a lion... my hair was crazy and I had whiskers. That was about it.

The temperature wasn't too bad for a February afternoon, but it wasn't particularly pleasant. The parade was set to start at 12:40pm and Mariko and I had gotten to one of the major spots on the route a little early... about an hour early. So we walked each direction a bit trying to decide where would be the best place to watch from. A main criteria for us was somewhere out of the wind (the wind is the coldest part of Germany). Luckily we found a semi-decent spot that wasn't crowded and so we waited.

 Soon 12:40 came and went, but we knew that we were near the middle of the parade so it would take some time to get to us.... yeah it took an hour. And after about the 3rd float we found out why. Every now and then the parade would just stop. Everyone in the parade would relax a bit and have a drink and cigarette. Then they would start back up and move for another 3 floats or so. It was the most laid back and slow parade I have ever seen.

But the crowd was not to be outdone! Groups of Germans clustered all along the road, each with their choice of alcohol. Some groups had cases of beer, others had wine bottles (each person carrying their own), and still some groups carried bags of mini shots. Everyone was having a wonderful time.

Though the floats themselves varied quite a bit, there were quite a few of them that had heavy political themes... a major one was Anti-Nuclear power. Some were just simple spring inspired, while others were a little more abstract. But they all did have one thing in common: Candy! Every float was throwing out handfuls of candy (plus some random other things). In the beginning there were children lined up alongside the road screaming (Helau!!) for candy, but as time dragged on the kids faded and their spots were taken by adults.... who seem to covet the candy more so than the small children. We even had some elderly people pushing us aside gently to get at the candy on the ground.

As the time approached 4pm and the parade showed no inclination of ending, the weather started to take a turn for the worse. The temperature dropped a little more and we could feel droplets of water starting to splash down. We both agreed that our feet were frozen and that we had seen plenty of drunk Germans to last for the Karnival, so we headed off for home. For which we were thankful, as the sleet and snow started before we were even half-way home.

Over all it was a fun parade, and a wild party for sure, the costumes were the best part in my opinion... a little like Halloween I guess, but more for adults. And I shall leave you with a small video of one of the floats during the parade:

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