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Why south Germany blooms with religious bombast on Fronleichnam

Thursday is yet another public holiday in the Catholic states of southern and western Germany. The celebration of Fronleichnam (Corpus Christi) is one of the more obscure but colourful Catholic celebrations.

Why south Germany blooms with religious bombast on Fronleichnam
The Fronleichnam parade in central Munich. Photo. DPA

What is Fronleichnam?

The word comes from the Middle High German vronlicham meaning “the body of God.” In English the festival is known by the Latin name Corpus Christi, which also means body of Christ.

On Fronleichnam, Catholics celebrate the belief that Jesus remains with us in the flesh through the bread and wine consumed during communion.

Unlike Christmas, Easter and Whitsun, Fronleichnam isn’t specifically referenced in the Bible. But there is a close connection between the festival and the Last Supper, at which Jesus gave his disciples bread and wine. Catholics believe that Jesus created the sacrament of the Eucharist when he told his disciples that the bread “is my flesh” and the wine “is my blood.”

The first Fronleichnam procession was held in the year 1270.

Where is it celebrated?

If you are lucky enough to live in Bavaria, Baden-Württemberg, Hesse, Saarland, Rhineland-Palatinate or North Rhine-Westphalia, you have a holiday on Thursday because of Fronleichnam. If you live anywhere else, more fool you for picking a part of Germany where Martin Luther got the upper hand.

A water based parade in Staffelsee, Bavaria. Photo:: DPA

When is it celebrated?

Fronleichnam is always celebrated on the second Thursday after Whitsun. It is really a sort of delayed celebration of the Last Supper which took place on Maundy Thursday. According to Dom Radio, the radio station of the Cologne Cathedral, celebrating the fest on Maundy Thursday wouldn’t befit the reflective nature of Easter.

Catholics in states that don’t have a public holiday have their processions on the following weekend.

How is it celebrated?

Differently in different places. In Fritzlar in north Hesse, the celebrations start on Wednesday night with the so-called Katzenkoppschießen. During this ceremony, the eight bells of the town cathedral are rung and a canon is fired, a ritual that is repeated three times.

In Cologne, there is a procession involving over 100 ships, while in Bamberg 18 men carry a huge cross through the town.

A floral carpet in Hüfingen, Baden-Württemberg. Photo: DPA

Generally the fest is celebrated with processions in which believers carry an ornately decorated monstrance with a sacred Eucharist wafer through the streets.

The towns of Hüfingen and Mühlenbach are renowned for their carpets made of flowers, which decorate the route of the procession and stretch to 100 metres in length.

It is also common for flags to festoon the route of the procession, while processions often visit alters along the way.

The political dimension

According to Dom Radio, the processions have often had a subversive element. The extrovert and bombastic character was meant to show Protestants how great it is to be a Catholic. Luther, for his part, described the holiday as “the most damaging of all festivals.”

In the Nazi era, the festivals were also a form of passive resistance against the secular state rulers. And even today the parades are a way of saying that religion belongs in the public sphere as well as the private, Dom Radio writes.

LIVING IN GERMANY

REVEALED: The most commonly asked questions about Germans and Germany

Ever wondered what the world is asking about Germany and the Germans? We looked at Google’s most searched results to find out – and help clear some of these queries up.

Oktoberfest
Hasan Salihamidzic, the sports director of FC Bayern, arrives with his wife at Oktoberfest in full traditional dress. Photo: picture alliance/dpa |

According to popular searches, Germany is the go-to place for good coffee and bread (although only if you like the hard kind) and the place to avoid if what you’re looking for is good food, good internet connection and low taxes. Of course, this is subjective; some people will travel long stretches to get a fresh, hot pretzel or a juicy Bratwurst, while others will take a hard pass.

When it comes to the question on the bad Internet – there is some truth to this. Germany is known for being behind other rich nations when it comes to connectivity. And from personal experience, the internet connection can seem a little medieval. The incoming German coalition government has, however, vowed to improve internet connectivity as part of their plans to modernise the country.

There are also frequent questions on learning the German language, and people pointing out that it is hard and complicated. This is probably due to the long compound words and its extensive grammar rules, however, as both English and German are Germanic languages with similar words in common, it’s not impossible to learn as an English-speaker.

Here’s a look at some of those questions…

Why is German called Deutsch? Whereas ‘German’ comes from the Latin, ‘Deutsch’ instead derives itself from the Indo-European root “þeudō”, meaning “people”. This slowly became “Deutsch” as we know it today. It can be a bit confusing to English-speakers, who are right to think it sounds a little more like “Dutch”, however the two languages do have the same roots which may explain it.

And why is Germany so boring? Again, probably a generalisation, especially given that Germany has a landmass of over 350,000 km² with areas ranging from high rise, industrial cities to traditional old town villages and even mountain ranges, so you’re sure to find a place that doesn’t bore you to tears.

Perhaps it is a question that comes from the stereotype that Germans are obsessed with being strict about rules, organised and analytical. Or that they have no sense of humour – all of these things being not the most exciting traits. 

Either way, from my experience I can confirm that, even though there is truth to German society enjoying order and rules, the vast majority of people are not boring, and I’m sure if you come to Germany you’ll meet many interesting, funny and exciting people. 

READ ALSO: 12 mistakes foreigners make when moving to Germany

When it comes to the German weather, most people assume a cold and cloudy climate, however this isn’t entirely true. While the autumn and winter, especially in the north, come with grey skies and sub-zero temperatures, Germany can have some beautiful summers, with temperatures frequently rising above 30C in some places.

Unsurprisingly, the power and wealth of the German nation is mentioned – Germany is the largest economy in Europe after all, with a GDP of 3.8 trillion dollars. This could be due to strong industry sectors in the country, including vehicle constructions (I was a little surprised to find no questions posed on German cars), chemical and electrical industry and engineering. There are also many strong economic cities in Germany, most notably Munich, Frankfurt am Main and Hamburg.

READ ALSO: Eight unique words and phrases that tell us something about Germany

Smart and tall?

Why are Germans so tall? They are indeed taller than many other nations, with the average German measuring a good 172.87cm (or 5 feet 8.06 inches), however this may be a question better posed to the Dutch, who make up the tallest people in the world.

Why are Germans so smart? While this is again a generalisation – as individuals have different levels of intelligence in all countries – this question may stem from Germany’s free higher education system or their seemingly efficient work ethic. Plus there does seem to be some scientific research behind this question, with a study done in 2006 finding that Germans had the highest IQ in Europe.

So, while many of the questions posed about Germany and Germans on Google stem from stereotypes, we can confirm that some aren’t entirely made up. If you’re looking to debunk some frequently asked questions about France and the French, check out this article by our sister site HERE.

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