• Germany's news in English
 
app_header_v3

The Local’s guide to Karneval

Ben Knight · 7 Feb 2013, 07:43

Published: 07 Feb 2013 07:43 GMT+01:00

Carne Vale – Medieval Latin for: Meat, Farewell!

The Germans are nothing if not a conundrum – and one with a medical theme. One minute they’re dealing with history’s biggest recession with the loveless efficiency of a hospital matron, the next they’re fretting over which suppository is best for an earache, and before the evening is out they’re working out a way to get their health insurance to pay for yoga courses.

It’s either supreme competence or abject neurosis with them, which is why, maybe, the tradition of Karneval, or Fasching, or Fastnacht, or Mardi Gras in the Franco-English of New Orleans, has thrived so long in the Germanic world. When the rest of the year is a hypochondriac see-saw of economic aptitude and overpowering anxiety, you don’t have to be Freud to realise that the collective Teutonic id needs a “fifth season” of debauchery and anarchy. Spending Shrove Tuesday frying a couple of pancakes for dinner, as the British do, just will not cut it.

The Christian aspects of the festival have long been reduced to a question of where to put the red letters on the calendar. Nowadays the eve of Lent is seldom followed by a fast marking Christ’s 40 days in the desert. Instead, the weeks leading to Easter are generally greeted with a hungover stumble into the office. Germans have been a resolutely secular bunch since at least 1823, which was when the first Karneval club was founded. But if the modern incarnation of the Karneval proves anything, it’s that you don’t have to be a Roman Catholic to need catharsis. Modern life, it turns out, is every bit as oppressive as Original Sin, and people always yearn for escape.

Cliché you say? Perhaps, but Karneval is universally acknowledged as Germany’s annual refuge in what has been described as “humour, satire, and revelry.” The allegorical figure that represents these three most Dionysian of human conditions is the court jester, or Jeck or Narr, and it is this character you are meant to emulate, imitate and dress up as when you immerse yourself in this excess of Teutonic zaniness.

But there are other fairytale icons too, all kept alive by seven centuries of tradition and paraded every year in huge, thronging pageants in the great cities on the banks of the Rhine. There are Karneval princes and Karneval princesses, Karneval virgins and Karneval peasants, all masked and costumed and sent guffawing through the crowds looking for ritualised fun by their various clubs.

Cologne, not coincidentally the oldest of Germany’s major cities, is the throbbing heart of the festivities and is where the biggest and most-televised parades take place. But more or less the whole of Germany joins in, and since 2001 even cynical, post-Protestant Berlin has resurrected its own tradition. There is clearly no sign of Karneval-fatigue in Germany despite seemingly endless TV programming each year showing ageing Teutons in garish costumes clapping to oompah music and showing just how much fun they really are.

Story continues below…

So before you find yourself lost in the middle of the crowd trying to swill a Kölsch beer while an accountant from some Cologne suburb is jostling your arm and pointing to his silly hat, then look no further than this handy guide.

Kölle alaaf!

Ben Knight (ben.knight@thelocal.de)

Today's headlines
Ansbach suicide attack
Isis says Syrian bomber in Bavaria one of its 'soldiers'
Photo: DPA

The Syrian asylum seeker who blew himself up outside a music festival in Germany was a "soldier" of the Isis, the jihadist-linked Amaq news agency said on Monday.

Merkel's refugee policy was 'reckless': Left Party leader
Photo: DPA

The attacks carried out by refugees over the past week show accepting large numbers of refugees brings "significant problems", the party's chairwoman said on Monday.

Ansbach suicide attack
What we know about the Ansbach suicide bomber
The attacker's rucksack. Photo: DPA

He had had his asylum application rejected and had twice attempted suicide, say authorities.

Ansbach suicide attack
Ansbach suicide bomber confirms Isis loyalty in video
Police remove evidence from the bombers residence. Photo: DPA

The man who blew himself up in Ansbach, Bavaria, on Sunday evening, injuring 15 people, recorded a video in which he pledged his allegiance to terror group Isis.

Top 10 German firms with the highest-paid employees
Photo: DPA

Want to know which companies shell out the most for salaries?

How will Germany change after string of bloody attacks?
A policeman in Ansbach on Sunday evening. Photo: DPA

Within seven days Germany has been hit by four bloody attacks on innocent people on its streets and in a train. What does this unprecedented string of murders mean for the country?

After attacks, minister rejects blanket suspicion of refugees
Thomas de Maiziere. Photo: DPA

Interior Minister Thomas de Maiziere on Monday cautioned Germans against indiscriminately branding all refugees a security threat after a rash of attacks over the last week.

What we know about the Reutlingen knife attack
Police arrest the attacker. Photo: DPA

... and what we don't.

Munich shooting
Police arrest possible accomplice of Munich gunman
Mourners in Munich. Photo: DPA

Authorities in Munich believe that a friend of the teenager who murdered nine people at a Munich shopping centre may have known about his plans.

Ansbach suicide attack
Suicide bomber attacks bar in Bavaria
Photo: DPA

A Syrian migrant set off an explosion at a bar in southern Germany that killed himself and wounded a dozen others late Sunday, authorities said, the third attack to hit Bavaria in a week.

Sponsored Article
Why you should attend an international job fair
DPA
Gallery
IN PICTURES: How Munich responded to shooting spree
Sponsored Article
Avoid hidden fees when sending money overseas
Lifestyle
10 rookie errors all Brits make when they arrive in Germany
National
Bavaria train attack: Were police right to shoot to kill?
Sponsored Article
Why Swiss hospitality graduates are in demand
National
How to get German citizenship (or just stay forever)
Sponsored Article
Five things Americans should know about voting abroad
Technology
Brexit will turn Berlin into 'Europe’s startup capital'
Travel
Six soothing day trips to escape the bustle of Berlin
International
'Germany needs to make UK come to its senses'
Features
Six odd things Germans do in the summer
Sponsored Article
Why expats choose international health insurance
Travel
These 10 little-known German towns are a must see
Features
How two gay dads cut through German red tape to start a family
Sponsored Article
Health insurance for expats in Germany: a quick guide
National
Five things to know about guns in Germany
Sponsored Article
Avoid hidden fees when sending money overseas
Culture
10 things you need to know before attending a German wedding
National
Eight weird habits you'll pick up living in Germany
Lifestyle
Six reasons 'super-cool' Berlin isn't all it's cracked up to be
Sponsored Article
Why Swiss hospitality graduates are in demand
Society
Only one country likes getting naked on the beach more than Germany
Lifestyle
23 ridiculously fascinating things you never knew about Berlin
Sponsored Article
Why you should attend an international job fair
Culture
8 German words that perfectly sum up your 20s
Lifestyle
Can't make it past the door at Berlin's most famous club? Help is at hand
Business & Money
Why Frankfurt could steal London's crown as Europe's finance capital
Features
6 surprising things I learned about Germany while editing The Local
Culture
Five sure-fire ways to impress Germans with your manners
10,700
jobs available
Toytown Germany
Germany's English-speaking crowd