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TRADITION

EXPLAINED: Why Germans get wholly wasted on Ascension Day

In Germany, Christi Himmelfahrt is not just about honouring Jesus' ascent into heaven - it's also Father's Day, and sees a tripling of alcohol-related accidents. The Local explains why.

EXPLAINED: Why Germans get wholly wasted on Ascension Day
A group of men celebrating Vatertag in Hanover in May 2019 pre-pandemic. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Hauke-Christian Dittrich

On the 40th day of Easter, Catholic tradition says Jesus Christ ascended into heaven, thus why Ascension Day always falls on a Thursday – and we in Germany get to revel in a nice holiday from work. In 2022 the day falls on Thursday May 26th. 

But in Germany you’re more likely to see day-drinking debauchery than pious reverence for the holiday (unless you’re in Bavaria) and it’s not just because people are excited not to work.

Ascension Day in Germany is also Father’s Day (Vatertag), or Men’s Day (Männertag) as it’s called in some places, and the traditional way that Germans like to honour dear old Dad is with good old beer, and lots of it.

And that means you may spot some groups of men drinking beer on Thursday – or dads will get a day to relax in front of the telly at home.

This might be surprising for newcomers who see Father’s Day as a time for cheesy “World’s Best Dad” mugs and ugly neckties.

But the German way is more about celebrating manhood and going out into nature in “gentlemen parties” (Herrenpartien) while pulling along decorated Bollerwagen (handcarts) filled to the brim with food and booze.

Men with their Bollerwagen in Warendorf, North Rhine-Westphalia, on Father’s Day 2020 in Germany. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Guido Kirchner

The tradition dates back to the 18th century as a way to celebrate Jesus returning to the Holy Father. Men would ride into town on carts or carriages and whoever had produced the most children would be rewarded with a big slice of ham, according to Spiegel.

By the 19th century, though, religion become less relevant and the day became more and more about ‘being a man’ through drinking, smoking and hiking, especially in now former communist East Germany where the religious holiday was abolished and eager binge drinkers decided to take the day off anyway to indulge in tradition.

Nowadays, these often no-women-allowed groups wear coordinated costumes and go on bike rides, hikes and strolls with their Bollerwagen booze-carts in tow.

This has led to an annual threefold increase of alcohol-related traffic accidents on this day each year, making it one of the peak times of year for reckless intoxication, according to the Federal Statistics Office.

Men drinking on Vatertag in Remscheid, North Rhine-Westphalia in 2017. Photo: picture alliance / Ina Fassbender/dpa | Ina Fassbender

The amount of drunkenness got so out of hand that in 2008, current President of the European Commission (then German Family Minister) Ursula von der Leyen begged in exasperation for an end to the inebriated ways of her countrymen, saying their age-old habits were “awful” and calling for a revolution.

“Men who want to be far away from their children are the final straw,” she said.

“A father should not be drunk in front of his children… I am in favour of reinventing Fathers’ Day as a day when they enthusiastically play with their children.”

READ ALSO: Why Germans are being warned not to cycle drunk on Father’s Day

Alas, her pleas have not quite yet been heeded.

That is of course until you go further south to more Catholic regions like Bavaria where towns continue on with religious parades that actually honour Jesus Christ on the sacred day – and give locals yet another reason to wear Lederhosen with funny hats.

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JEWISH

How a Potsdam rabbi school is bringing a ‘Jewish Renaissance’ to Central Europe

The Abraham Geiger College has become a centre of European Judaism, with Rabbis and cantors being trained in Potsdam and Berlin for 20 years.

How a Potsdam rabbi school is bringing a 'Jewish Renaissance' to Central Europe
Anita Kantor stands in front of a Torah Scroll in Abraham Geiger College. Photo: DPA

Anita Kantor wistfully holds a Torah scroll in her hands. The Hungarian is set to be ordained as a rabbi in the next few months.

Originally a religious studies teacher, she hopes to return to Budapest and open up a Jewish study centre there, a “Beth Midrash” (the Hebrew term for such an educational institution).

“This is more than a dream,” says Kantor.

The Abraham Geiger College in Potsdam, where Kantor has been studying since 2014, has put their support behind her.

The college near Berlin has been training rabbis for 20 years, and Walter Homolka, its founder and principal, considers it part of a Jewish Renaissance in Central Europe, despite growing anti-Semitism and hostility towards Israel.

READ ALSO: Violent anti-Semitic attacks in Germany increase by 60 percent

 

Rabbis being ordained at the college. Photo: DPA

The college owes its existence to tens of thousands of Jews from the former Soviet Union who relocated to Germany in the 1990s. In 1989, only 25,000 Jews lived in Germany. But now, over 100,000 Jews are living in the Bundesrepublik again. The need for trained staff in synagogues, above all rabbis, has been increasing ever since.

Homolka says that he can hardly believe a centre for European Judaism has arisen from his idea to establish the first training centre in Germany for liberal clergy.

The College will soon be relocating to the Neues Palais (New Palace) in Potsdam, where historical buildings are being developed into Potsdam University’s new Training Centre for Jewish Theology.

In 2012, the German Council of Science and Humanities recommended in 2012 that Jewish theology be established as a university subject.

“It wasn’t well received everywhere,” says Homolka, “but if you introduce Muslim theology into university curriculum, you can’t ignore Jewish theology.”

Before Abraham Geiger College was founded, rabbis were primarily trained in the USA or UK, and would usually stay there afterwards.

According to Homolka, “when you become part of Jewish life in New York, you don’t necessarily want to come back to Germany”.

Students from around the world

However today, the institute near Berlin receives applications from all over the world, with students coming from Russia, Israel, Brazil and the USA. The College also has partnerships with educational institutions in both Budapest and Moscow. 

An rabbinical ordination at the Abraham Geigner College. Photo: DPA

By now, 35 graduates, 8 women and 27 men, have completed their training at the college and gone on to work in South Africa, the UK, Israel, as well as in Jewish communities around Germany.

The college is in close contact with communities, where they meet young people who could potentially become rabbis themselves. In 2010, Alina Traiger became the first woman in over 75 years to be ordained as a rabbi in Germany. “Our graduates are our success stories”, says Homolka.

Shut down by Nazis

The Abraham Geiger College is in the tradition of the College for the Study of Judaism in Berlin, which was founded in 1872 by Abraham Geiger, a theologian and rabbi (1810-1874), and later shut down in 1942 by the Nazis.

The liberal academic institution is rooted in connecting Jewish traditions and modern scientific issues. A key topic is whether tradition can be questioned. Liberal Jews say yes, though the Orthodox are sceptical.

“For an orthodox rabbi, it’s sinful for a man to even want to assess the value of tradition,” says Homolka.

The Orthodox community were initially sceptical about Abraham Geiger College. However, according to Homolka, the two denominations have grown closer. Though they hold different views on issues such as whether a woman should be educated as a rabbi, Homolka highlights that “the world is changing”.

Regina Jonas, the first ever female rabbi, came from Berlin and was ordained in 1935. Today, there are around 1,000 female rabbis worldwide.

As Anita Kantor makes her own mark on history, she says, “I’m trying to find my place in this male dominated tradition. Female rabbis have a place too,” arguing that the classic image of the rabbi must be rethought.

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