Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Ready or Not, Here Comes Karneval

We are just about to enter the Crazy Days of the "Fifth Season" here in Köln, so here is a quick primer about the festivities, as we understand it.

Karneval officially started on November 11 at 11:11 a.m., with a day of parties. It supposedly then went under the radar until the Crazy Days begin, which is this coming Thursday. Köln might not quite rival Rio's carnival, but it certainly is the biggest in Germany and one of the largest in Europe. The Crazy Days start on Thursday with Weiberfastnacht; at 11:11 a.m. women get to cut off the tie of any man, giving him a kiss for compensation. Other reports tell us that basically women can have their way with any man of their choosing.

Friday through Sunday there are parades during the day, followed by parties at night. Sunday morning is a big parade of school children, getting ready for the gigantic parade on Monday. The Rosenmontag parade is the climax of the Karnival celebrations with more than 1.4 million people. Lots of candy and treats are thrown out to the crowds, and we've heard that adults get a tad aggressive to get the loot. There are neighborhood parades on Tuesday and then on Ash Wednesday, everything is over, as the mostly catholic city enters Lent, and we all pray for rain to cleanse the city.

I don't believe I've mentioned the key point.... everybody wears a costume. Now, anyone who knows Chris, knows his unenthusiasm for costume parties, and I think my persuasion and charm ended a few years ago with a Halloween party in which I made him dress as Pigs in Space. Last night I braved one Karneval shop in search for a costume. I didn't make it to the outskirts of the city, where next to Ikea, there is another warehouse the size of Ikea which sells only Karneval related gear. With mobs of people, I scanned the racks of cheaply made costumes, settling on a somewhat subtle ladybug costume. Of all the costume articles I have in the states, not one of them made it with us to Germany, who would have known? (I would like to comment that I did show much restraint and did not buy a pig costume for Chris). In the last week, it has not been odd at all to see an old man on the tram dressed up in full traditional gear, or to have the table in the bar next to you occupied by a group of clowns (and I mean that literally). Part of the early costume wearing is so that people can get in the swing of things and start practicing all the traditional campy folk songs, which everyone sings. We'll have to find some to share with you....

I asked my collegues for some "words of wisdom" about Karneval. I was told that if you were using any "wisdom" during Karneval, then you didn't celebrate it properly. With that, let the festivities begin.


Annamarie said...

I have to see pictures of Chris in the pig suit. Money is no object.

Mark said...

Circumcision of ties at 11:11, costumes, candy, crazy days.... we came too early in the year! The only 'C's we saw were a nice conservative catholic town. I can only hope to rival your wonderful writing and stories with a few of our own as we experience the Tet celebration in Vietnam in 10 days.