Carnival in Germany, when everything is upside down

February 22, 2012

By Kai Pfaffenbach

We Germans (at least most of us) seem to be well organized, diligent, reliable, politically correct and ready to help, even with our money. But there is one thing we Germans are prejudiced for – our lack of humor.

It looks like for that reason “Carnival” was invented.

Okay, that’s not true. About 600 years ago, people started big celebrations for the last days before Ash Wednesday and the end of the Christian period of fasting. To get better control of those festivities authorities “organized” Carnival. Over the years it became more and more popular to wear funny costumes.

As people behind masks cannot be easily recognized, the “Political Carnival” was invented and in the city of Mainz (the capital of Germany’s state of Rhineland Palatinate) the Rose Monday parade was used to disparage politicians since 1843.

This part of the Rose Monday parade still seems to have the same creative people building big carnival floats depicting our politicians. The absolute highlight of this year’s parade in Mainz was a huge papier-mache figure showing German President Christian Wulff hanging in the ropes of a ring as a shattered boxer.

For more than two months Wulff was under heavy criticism in German media for his (too) close contacts to business people and as state prosecutors announced official investigations, he stepped down last Friday. The builders of the carnival float reacted extremely fast and the (former) President was simply “knocked out” instead of “only” being shattered beforehand.

Not less creative was a float showing the rating agencies “Fitch”, “Moody’s” and “Standard & Poor’s” as little boys using sling shots to shoot at the euro.

Another papier-mache figure depicts German Chancellor Angela Merkel handing rescue packages (symbolized in the shape of umbrellas) to Greek, Portuguese and Spanish people. So far, so good!

But there is one thing in this whole carnival which I don’t get at all: why are people wearing those traditional uniforms (like soldiers in medieval times), walking in marching steps and trying to look funny and serious at the same time?

If you ask both women and men about their motivations you will find out: Carnival is a serious thing. For them it is more of an obligation to take part in the parade. This seems to be the case for many of the spectators as well. They argue with others about their spots (just because they stood on the very same spot for the Rose Monday parades for the last 20 years or so) and they are very serious about their (non-existant) costumes: a funny (let’s say silly) hat does the trick and people consider themselves Carnival revelers. Alcohol provides the necessary comfort to listening to awful pop songs and with the sun out (like this year) nothing is stopping them until Ash Wednesday.

Even in Frankfurt’s stock exchange it’s all about Carnival. Not on Rose Monday, but the day after. Stock traders show up in costumes, disco music sounds over the trading floor and sparkling wine replaces coffee for breakfast.

Overall it doesn’t seem to be a “big deal” this year, as trading in the times of a worldwide economic crisis is “quiet”, as a trader said before he adjusts his carnival hat and turns back to the trading terminal.

For certain people it is a real transformation from being as bourgeois as possible or business-style serious to letting their hair down. I find this strange and so I have my own prejudice: yes, there are a lot of Germans around with a huge lack of a sense of humor.

And those who have a good sense of humor don’t like the narrow-minded carnival but the creative criticism of the authorities.

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A carnival is a festive season which includes a public celebration or parade combining some instincts with street festivals, masks, circus, etc. They actually mark a rollover of daily life, to celebrate the joy of a festival. Carnival involve people dressing up in costumes, dances, drinks, music, etc parties to create a separate world of its own. Observed among the world’s many Carnival is Rio de Carnival Jenario popular for fun, excitement and joy it offers. Some are traditional, such as Venice Carnival events in many cities and regions of the world is watching.
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