• Germany edition
 
Karneval – the history
Photo: DPA

Karneval – the history

Published: 07 Feb 2013 06:44 GMT+01:00
Updated: 07 Feb 2013 06:44 GMT+01:00

The origins of Karneval are so old that spending the final weeks of winter off your face and horny has long since become enmeshed in our very DNA. Some men and women tried to limit this part of human nature to a short period each year and today we call these people Catholics. But back in the day, it was Romans, Egyptians, Celts and, yes, the German tribes that indulged in pagan orgies to mark the passing of the cold season.

But general drunkenness and sexual abandon aside, very few actual pagan traditions have survived the millennia of Christianisation, except one – Karneval has always been the season of satire. The Romans used to play slave and master role-reversal games, an unnerving tradition that survived as long as middle-class people had servants. The idea was that for one day at least, a servant could make sarcastic remarks and escape the rod. This temporary suspension of censorship led to the adoption and development of characters who mocked their social superiors, like the Jecke or the Hans Wurst. In the Middle Ages there was even a “Pseudo-Pope,” who would parody Church rituals.

In fact, medieval Germany developed a tradition of downright blasphemy at Karneval, with people dressing up as animals and performing things like the Eselsmesse, or Mass of Asses – as in jackasses. This involved grown men and women answering the blessings of the Mass in animal noises. Seeing as the ass was a phallic fertility symbol in those deranged Dark Ages, this was also a very rude misappropriation of the recurring donkey image in Jesus’ life-story.

The German Reformation, of course, spoiled all the fun by doing away with the pre-Easter fast altogether, which eliminated the whole point of Karneval and its many traditions. That is until the fateful year of 1823, when a new, organised Karneval club was founded, there was no longer a Protestant respite from ritualised toilet humour.

In the 1820’s, when Karneval was reborn for the modern age in post-Napoleonic Germany, the people used the event to enjoy the always-wholesome pastime of making fun of French people, who they despised and feared, and against whom they bore a few grudges.

Accordingly, Karneval satire is kept alive mainly by displaying giant caricatures of universally despised people during the festival’s several parades. In recent years, the role of a militaristic and menacing superior power has often played by the United States and former President George Bush has made many Karneval appearances in papier-mâché – including at least once holding a crucifix-shaped flame-thrower emblazoned with the phrase “God Bless America.”

Last year, Turkish-German TV comedians picked up the baton of ridicule and lured the national media into thinking they had set up a Karneval club based on Muslim codes. Now it seems it’s the Germans’ turn to take a joke from society’s underdogs.

Ben Knight (ben.knight@thelocal.de)

Don't miss...X
Left Right
Today's headlines
German of the Week
'Now I can grow cannabis at home'
Günter Weiglein. Photo: DPA

'Now I can grow cannabis at home'

Günter Weiglein is one of three men in Germany who is allowed to grow his own cannabis thanks to a court ruling last week. But he tells The Local he’s not celebrating just yet. READ  

Germany tops penis enlargement table
Do your wurst, doc. Photo: DPA

Germany tops penis enlargement table

Germany is the world’s leader in penis enlargements, with five times as many people in the country undergoing the procedure than anywhere else in the world. Globally, Germany carries out the fourth highest amount of cosmetic surgery operations. READ  

The Local List
The best words in Austrian German
Which one is the Austrian word for tomato? Photo: APA/dpa

The best words in Austrian German

If you’ve lived in Germany, or you learnt Hochdeutsch at school, you may be surprised by some of the language differences between Austria and parts of Germany. READ  

Turks in Germany vote for first time
Voters at Berlin's Olympic Stadium on Thursday. Photo: DPA

Turks in Germany vote for first time

Germany’s large Turkish community headed to polling stations on Thursday to vote for the first time in a Turkish election. The Local visits Berlin’s Olympic Stadium which has been turned into a giant voting booth. READ  

Ice Age lion gets its head back
The lion with the missing half of its head. Photo: Hilde Jensen, Universität Tübingen.

Ice Age lion gets its head back

A 40,000-year-old figurine of a lion has been reunited with its head, more than 80 years after it was first found in a cave in southern Germany, following an extraordinary discovery. READ  

German jobless rate rises in July
Photo: DPA

German jobless rate rises in July

Unemployment in Germany rose in July to 6.6 percent, the Federal Employment Agency said on Thursday, blaming the increase on "seasonal reasons". READ  

Your lottery numbers are 9, 10, 11, 12 and 13
The winning numbers in Wednesday night's lotto. Photo: DPA/Lotto

Your lottery numbers are 9, 10, 11, 12 and 13

Three lucky Germans will take home a six-figure prize after an extremely rare lottery draw. The lucky numbers on Wednesday night were 9, 10, 11, 12, 13 and 37. READ  

Germany denies 'land for gas' deal with Putin
Merkel with Poroshenko and Putin in June. Photo: DPA

Germany denies 'land for gas' deal with Putin

UPDATE: Chancellor Angela Merkel and Russian President Vladimir Putin have been working on a secret peace plan for Ukraine, The Independent newspaper reported on Thursday. The report was later denied by the German government. READ  

Space ship brings special cargo for astronaut
A cargo compartment on the ATV. Photo: ESA

Space ship brings special cargo for astronaut

The last European space freighter blasted off to the International Space Station (ISS) on Wednesday, carrying a special treat for the station’s German astronaut. The launch of the German-built supply ship marks the end of an era. READ  

World Cup victory makes Germans thirsty
Beer sales abroad and during the World Cup were behind the rise. Photo: DPA

World Cup victory makes Germans thirsty

Germany’s World Cup victory was also good news for the country’s brewers who saw a welcome reversal in the long-term trend of draining beer sales. READ  

RECEIVE OUR NEWSLETTER AND ALERTS
Photo: DPA
Gallery
Five reasons to visit Oktoberfest (and five not to)
Photo: DPA
Society
Huge Bavarian crop circle puzzles crowds
Photo: DPA
Analysis & Opinion
Have Your Say: Should Germany legalize cannabis?
Photo: DPA
Education
Germany's students fail to graduate in time
Photo: DPA
Gallery
Hamburg harbour lit up in blue
Business & Money
JobTalk: 'Application process is failing'
Photo: Bundesarchiv/Bild 183-S45825
Culture
Germany puts 700,000 WWI docs online
Photo: DPA
Society
This man wants to give all of us €12,000 a year
Photo: DPA
Education
Top university switches master's courses to English
Travel
Plans unveiled for bike trail along former Iron Curtain
Photo: DPA
Gallery
The Local List: 12 best words in German
Photo: Europeana.de 1914 - 1918
Gallery
A German soldier's life behind WWI lines
Education
Raising the bar for law & business in Germany
Photo: DPA
Business & Money
JobTalk: All you need to know about working in Germany
Photo: DPA
Features
The Local List Archive - Your guide to all things German
National
Share news tips with The Local Germany
Sponsored Article
Bilingual school turning education on its head
Sponsored Article
CurrencyFair: Why it pays when making overseas transfers
Latest news from The Local in Austria

More news from Austria at thelocal.at

Latest news from The Local in Switzerland

More news from Switzerland at thelocal.ch

Latest news from The Local in Denmark

More news from Denmark at thelocal.dk

Latest news from The Local in Spain

More news from Spain at thelocal.es

Latest news from The Local in France

More news from France at thelocal.fr

Latest news from The Local in Italy

More news from Italy at thelocal.it

Latest news from The Local in Norway

More news from Norway at thelocal.no

Latest news from The Local in Sweden

More news from Sweden at thelocal.se

3,244
jobs available
Toytown Germany
Germany's English-speaking crowd