• Germany's news in English
 

Karneval – the history

Published: 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)

Today's headlines
German woman, 65, has quadruplets
Photo: DPA

German woman, 65, has quadruplets

A 65-year-old German woman, who already has 13 children, has given birth to quadruplets after undergoing an artificial insemination procedure in Ukraine. READ  

German WWII remains exhumed in Bosnia
Photo: DPA

German WWII remains exhumed in Bosnia

The remains of about 20 people, thought to be German and Italian soldiers killed in Bosnia during World War II, have been exhumed in the east of the country, officials said Friday. READ  

Sotherby's sells Nazi-era art trove find
Some 1,600 works of art were found behind this door in 2012. Photo: DPA

Sotherby's sells Nazi-era art trove find

A painting by Max Liebermann from a Nazi-era art trove found in Germany last year will go on sale in London next month, the first from the collection to be sold off, Sotheby's said on Friday. READ  

Family's ten-year quest for truth about dead son
Jeremiah Duggan. Photo: Justice for Jeremy

Family's ten-year quest for truth about dead son

The family of a British student killed in Wiesbaden over 12 years ago made a fresh step towards justice on Thursday, after a London coroner disagreed with German authorities' belief that he killed himself. READ  

Property of the week
Property of the Week: May 22nd
Photo: Mr Lodge

Property of the Week: May 22nd

Modern and sophisticated: This week’s property combines classic architecture with chic furnishings to create an elegant and luxurious living experience. READ  

83-year-old gets second drug dealing sentence
The judge said, given his age, he was not the ideal candidate for therapy. Photo:DPA

83-year-old gets second drug dealing sentence

An 83-year-old man was handed a six month suspended sentence on Thursday after being caught carrying seven bags of heroin in Düsseldorf. READ  

Carnival of Cultures in Berlin: six top picks
The dazzling colour of 2014's festival parade. Photo: Karneval der Kulturen

Carnival of Cultures in Berlin: six top picks

This weekend Berlin will be lit up by the vibrancy and colour of the Carnival of Cultures, an annual four-day urban festival that celebrates the diversity of Germany's capital. Here are six things not to miss. READ  

Bayern fans bring club's earliest years to light
FC Bayern's first team in 1925, the year of the commemorative publication. Photo: Jewish Museum

Bayern fans bring club's earliest years to light

For decades the early history of FC Bayern München was forgotten, but FCB fans have re-discovered a book from 1925 documenting the club's founding moments. READ  

Top spy admits: We're 'dependent' on NSA
Gerhard Schindler admitted that the BND had made mistakes in its handling of NSA requests. Photo: DPA

Top spy admits: We're 'dependent' on NSA

The head of the German Intelligence Agency (BND) told a special parliamentary committee on Thursday that his agency is 'dependent on' the American National Security Agency (NSA). READ  

Autobahn driver suffers drone windscreen smash
Photo: Polizei Bochum

Autobahn driver suffers drone windscreen smash

After a low flying drone crashed into the windscreen of a car on the Autobahn outside Bochum, police announced on Thursday they are looking for witnesses. READ  

RECEIVE OUR NEWSLETTER AND ALERTS
Travel
Why the train strike is bad for passengers and workers
National
Meet Germany's Eurovision hope
Business & Money
Is 2015 a new moment for jobsharing?
Features
How the LGBT rights movement was born in Germany
National
Why you don't make bomb jokes at the airport
National
Why Germany needs a little less tipple
National
Who Germans and Americans trust... and don't
Politics
What the UK election means for Germany
National
Why Germany is great for mums
Features
The Germans with GI dads
Five ways Germany falls short on gay rights
Travel
Giant tortoise found riding Munich rail
National
FCK CPS? A-OK with court
Politics
Opinion: Brexit's dangers for Germany
Features
Smart kids all want to work for BMW
National
Minister shows off top Denglisch
National
Germany's 'other genocide' in Africa
National
Arms firms get a 'must do better' mark on ethics
Sport
Bayern's anticlimactic 25th Bundesliga win
Politics
A Greek learning politics in Germany
Features
The battle of the "Gates of Berlin"
National
Germany's 'very poor' lobbying record
National
Germany's favourite baby names of 2014
Politics
Merkel's 15 years at the top of German politics
Travel
Lowest of the low: how woman exploited Germanwings crash
Features
Spice up asparagus season with The Local's serving suggestions
Sport
Football and the €30,000 firework
Technology
Why scientists oppose killer robots
National
'Cannibal cop' gets 8 years
National
Which city is Germany's worst for drivers?
Technology
Electrifying 'Ostalgia'
National
Cologne Cathedral returns from space
Pupils mourn lost classmates
National
Freed after 25 years on death row
Shutterstock
Sponsored Article
10 things you didn’t know about Zagreb (and why you should go)
Is your workload 'out of control'? You're not alone...
Sponsored Article
What expat parents should ask before choosing a school
Features
Paddy's Day, Berlin style
National
Why east Germans are happy to get it on on camera
National
Uplifting thoughts to get you through the last week of winter
National
What would you do with a 250-year-old pretzel?
National
Who wants the Olympics more - Hamburg or Berlin?
Features
Just why is the German flag Schwarz, Rot, Gold?
Business & Money
Getting German workers and bosses thinking positive
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

6,748
jobs available
Toytown Germany
Germany's English-speaking crowd