A few weeks ago, I mentioned that Karneval festivities were heating up and that people were getting seriously into it. I had no idea… Seriously. As I write this, it is the end of the season, so to speak, with only 1 more days left to squeeze in whatever partying you may have left in you. How seriously do people in these parts take it? The parking lot behind our building is exclusively for workers at a nearby business. It is usually full. Today? Less than 1/3 of the spaces have cars as temporary residents. Schools in the area have shut down for the week. Although it isn’t an official holiday, several businesses and shops around town are closed. Why? In some sort of somber preparation for the holy Lenten season? P-shaw. I think not. People are squeezing every last bit of partying into the last few days of Karneval that they possibly can. It is INTENSE, people.
As I’m prone to do in these posts, I must confess my complete and total ignorance. I knew that Karneval was a pretty big deal in Brazil (and I went ahead and generalized in my head to South America), home to the grand parties in Rio. Of course, I was aware of the spectacular parties in Venice. And, of course, there is always Mardi Gras. Here? They start the party before Christmas, really, on the 11th day of the 11th month at 11:11am. Parties are held with increasing intensity right up until Ash Wednesday, too. That’s 3 whole months of serious partying. There is very little that you could say that the Germans do half-way, and Karneval is more like one of those things that the Germans do in triplicate. There are a lot of parties where almost everyone will be wearing a similar costume, and there are parties where it’s more of an anything-goes kind of costume. There are kids parties, family parties, adults parties. If you have another idea about how they could break it down, I’ll put money on it that they would be happy to incorporate it. We’re in a part of Germany where most people will call them Fasching parties, but it really is all the same thing: A Capital P Party.
Allow me to share a little bit of what I’ve learned through my research into this most colorful cause for celebration! There is a wee bit of debate about the origin of the word “Carneval,” although if you believe that the festival season is strictly aligned with the Christian season of Lent, you are likely to buy the one about how it comes from the “Carne Vale” or “Carne Lavare” which is basically a farewell to meat (and good riddance says the vegetarian in me!). There is also an argument that people have been celebrating Carneval since before Christians added the Lenten season to our calendars, in which case you would probably go with the theory that it comes from the Roman phrase “carrus navalis,” which was a festival celebrating the start of the sailing season in which the image of Isis was carried to the shore and involved a parade of masks. Either way, it looks like the dad in “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” would be disappointed as neither etymology turns up a Greek origin. (“Helau!” is the traditional Karneval greeting everywhere in Germany except in the Köln area, where one would shout “Alaaf!”)
Karneval celebrations in southern Germany are said to symbolize driving out winter (hurray!!) and all of the evil spirits winter brought with it (indeed..). Traditionally, though, Karneval celebrations in Germany were a time that the people could mock the politicians and leaders (this was especially true after the French took over the Rhineland part of Germany, which is where Köln is, which is a likely explanation for why their celebrations are supposed to be so, so outrageous!) safely behind masks.
Yesterday was Aschaffenburg’s karnevalsumzug (Karneval parade). Again, I really had no idea. You would think that after the zeal with which they celebrate their fork trucks, I would be prepared, but… no. I was not. Sitting in the comfort of my living room, hours before the parade started, I started getting a clue. A party bus (when I say party bus, I mean a city bus decked out with balloons and loud speakers swaying slowly down the street as the revelers inside crank up the techno-music) ambled down the street outside our building… random bumble bees tripped down the sidewalk. I remained naive… until: