“With this topic” I warned Francesca, ” werde ich vom Hölzchen aufs Stöckchen kommen-I won´t be able to tell a straight tale“. No tradition is typical for Germany as a whole. We even can´t agree on a common name. Therefore, in this blog I talk about Fasnet, Fasnacht or Carneval, different names for the same few days before Lent, when Germans are licenced to run wild.
Some regions don´t celebrate carneval at all. Historically, those were the regions where protestantism prevailed. A religious map of Germany would be red for protestants in the North and the East and green for catholics in the South and the West. The carneval-map would look very much alike. But both of them would be sprinkled with red and green dots like a Streuselkuchen. In a green dot, carneval would be a long-lived tradition with all the power of emotion, while in the red surroundings carneval today might take place, but without vibrancy. This happens in Frankfurt every year: while this basically protestant city organizes a somehow lukewarm “Faschingsumzug” on Sunday, the real, heartfelt Fasching takes place in its suburb Heddernheim, on Tuesday.
Carneval means anarchy. For seven days, all authorities are overthrown. First, men and their symbols of power a dethroned. On Weiberfasnacht-women´s carneval next Wednesday, men better don´t wear ties. Women are on the loose this day. In their bags, they carry scissors and cut any tie in reach. Maybe Sigmund Freud´s castration complex was born on a especially wild night in late 19th century Vienna. I remember Weiberfasnacht as the only day the women of our village where allowed into the local inn without their husbands. They even sat at the Stammtisch, the table near the oven that is reserved for the local regulars. Women never sit down at the Stammtisch, never. So, this is anarchy.
Government is overthrown the next day, on schmutziger Donnerstag-dirty Thursday. Where I come from, masses in old nightgowns storm the city hall. Elsewhere, Prince and Princess Carneval reign. From Thursday on, everybody wears fancy dresses, and everybody misbehaves: Alles ist erlaubt-no restrictions.
Though, this being Germany, the fun is well organised. Fasnachtssitzungen and carneval parades are the places where the general cheerfullness takes place–with licence to laugh, and to touch the neighbours, orderly of course, by Schunkeln–joining the arms, swaying on the benches, and singing. Alcohol helps to shed inhibitions. Therefore, Aschermittwoch, the end of carneval and the beginning of Lent, mainly serves to recover from the biggest hangover of the year.
While Aschermittwoch is fixed on 40 days before Karfreitag-Good Friday, everything else varies according to regional traditions: Weiberfasnacht can be on either Wednesday or Thursday, carneval parades are on Sunday, Monday (Rosenmontag) or Tuesday. And while I´m wrting this, I feel, beneath all the fun and the glitter, the terror of Fasnet. Old images arise, of menacing witches carrying away little children. Look at these pictures of Alemannische Fasnet and you can well imagine how terryfing those parades can be for a little child. The witches carried long chains. When they approached, they lifted the chains to the sky, rattled, screamed and grabbed their victim by the arm. Then, they pulled the terrified child into a ring of chains and dragged them along. For the first time, I felt the dangers and the attractions of evil. I feared to be taken away by the witch and at the same time longed to be taken, as this would make me special. Therefore I lingered on the realm of the parade, ready to be taken, and at the same time prepared to hide behind my parents should I be too afraid.
For many children today, Darth Vader probably radiates the same fascination.
Formed by these early experiences, today I never really connect to carneval parades at other places. They seem too lightweight, too irrelevant, even if corruption and government mispractices are sharply criticized. I have felt the dark side of power that lives in every human being. What else is there to come?
In my case, love. Only once I went to the carneval capital of Germany, Köln. I went there with an old friend. I went there because of serious business, but it was carneval, and we danced at night. We didn´t wear any fancy dresses or any masks. Rather, in dancing, our masks of super-earnest, politically engaged students dropped. In mutual recognition of our light sides, we fell in love.
But this is another story.