German Turks join the party in pre-Lenten carnival
(Photo: Carnival revelers parade in Düsseldorf, 4 Feb 2008/Ina Fassbender)
Germany’s pre-Lenten carnival festivities got underway on Thursday with an official Turkish carnival association is joining in the fun this year for the first time.
Long sidelined from the usually raucous celebrations, an annual highpoint in Catholic areas such as the Rhineland, Bavaria and Black Forest, residents of Turkish origin in the city of Dortmund have created their own “Guild of Fools”. That means they can have their own float in Monday’s big procession, a troupe of dancers and a symbolic “prince and princess couple”.
“We set up our own association because many Turks in Germany have enjoyed carnival over the years. As an official guild, we want to enable Turks living in Germany to join in,” says the 1st Turkish Guild of Fools Dortmund 09 on their website.
(Photo: Carnival parade in Cologne, 19 Feb 2007/Alex Grimm)
These days, carnival is mainly an excuse for many Germans to parade through the streets dressed up as clowns and go on a six-day beer binge — an aspect that may be problematic for Muslims. But carnival has ancient roots. The partying grew out of the Roman tradition of celebrating the onset of spring which was later adopted by Christians to usher in Lent, the forty days preceding Easter that are a season of reflection and fasting.
In the Muslim calendar, there is no equivalent to carnival before Ramadan, the Islamic month of fasting and prayer, and the Turkish Guild is giving out mixed signals on exactly where the limits are for its members.
A spokesman has told German media the guild may look to its roots by having belly dancers but stressed that members can have just as much fun as other revellers. “Religion is important for many people at carnival and we accept that. We are not pursuing any political or Muslim goals,” he is quoted as saying, adding that alcohol and kissing are part of the fun.
Perhaps these contradictions highlight the difficulties faced by Germany’s more than 2 million-strong Turkish community, many of whom lead parallel lives and complain about Islamophobia among Germans.
(Photo: Düsseldorf carnival float caricatures Osama bin Laden, 4 Feb 2008/Ina Fassbender)
How important is it for Germany’s Turkish community to take a fuller part in German traditions like carnival that have their roots in Christian festivals? Is this taking integration too far?