Tag Archives: Lent

On Lent, lentils and Maultaschen

“When I hear Lent I always think of lentils” I told Francesca when we discussed Fastenzeit, the 40 days between carneval and Eastern.

In the catholic household of my upbringing, lentil soup was the staple diet for a Friday, the day on which religon demanded not to eat any meat. We ate it with Wiener Würstchen, a kind of Frankfurters, instead, which didn´t count as meat. This lentil soup was served enriched with Spätzle, a special kind of regional pasta, and flavoured with a tablespoon of vinegar. I loved this lentil soup, maybe because it was the only not-homemade dish my mother ever served. In a household reigned by homemade marmelade, self-pressed raspberry juices and handpicked peas, the taste of a pulverized soup with freezedried vegetables and probably an unhealthy amount of glutamat spelled  luxurious pleasure. 

Only when I worked in the kitchen of a Gasthaus in our local ski-ressort, I learnt that lentils are more than a brown mass of powder.  Each night we poured kilos of the brown protein bombs into a 40 liter pot, and covered them with water. The next morning, we  got up early to let them simmer on the stove for two hours.  We added Speck, lard, and cooked it for another hour, to get the smotth texture and the rich taste of lentils and lard combined. Then I would prepare everything for a rush of 200 hungry children. I carried the pot outside into a wooden barrack reserved for the ski classes and heated another big pot of Wiener Würstchen. This was the most delicate part of my task, as their skin tended to burst when overheated, and even then, in the 70ies, children didn´t eat burst sausages. Today, lentil soup still is served in my own family, homemade. I like the idea of a dish that only needs to stand overnight and cooks for hours without me..

Another favorite dish in my family originates in Fastenzeit as well: Maultaschen, literally translated as mouth-bag.

Schwabians invented Maultaschen to cheat on the obligation of fasting. They took a chunk of meat, minced it finely, mixed it with spinach and covered it in pasta dough. Thus, God was cheated twice. If he looked at the dish, he would see only the pasta dough. In case he might be able to look beneath the surface, he would see a green mass and take it for a vegetarian dish. God obviously doesn´t taste. 

For a long time only the Schwabians enjoyed Maultaschen. For me, the pleasure of Maultaschen in der Brühe or Maultaschen geschmälzt made up for the otherwise ascetic lifestyle in Stuttgart, where people enjoy not to enjoy.  “Mir geht es nicht so gut, dass ich klagen könnte – I´m not so well off that I could complain” describes the general attitude in an ironic way.


Surprisingly, this regional dish opened the door to my first intercultural friendship. Once, at university, I tutored an exchange scientist from Inner Mongolia. I was paid to show him Germany, to tell him about our customs and thus to help him  to feel more at home in a foreign country. For a long time I didn´t succeed. He missed his wife, his children, his friends, his status at his home university and we didn´t connect. Then, one day, on a trip to Tübingen, I invited him to Maultaschen in der Brühe. First he declined, as he always declined the food I offered him. This non-acceptance of food always offended me, because in my understanding, offering food means to offer hospitality and to decline it equalls rejection. This time, I insisted. Luckily, our neighbours at the next table were already eating their Maultaschen. “Look”, I said “those are Maultaschen in der Brühe”. He smiled for the first time since I had met him:” Oh, you mean Wan-Tan-soup”.

Das Eis war gebrochen-the ice had cracked. Over Maultaschen and the Wan-tan soup he prepared for me the following week, I learnt about similarities and differences between people and culture. I learnt about  his lactose allergy that made it impossible for him to partake in our students diet of bread, cheese and milk.

Though Lent is part of our religious and cultural tradition, the fasting rules don´t count any more. The only people I know who seriously obey any fasting rules out of religious reasons are islamic neighbours and friends during Rhamadan. Others decide to make Fastenzeit the time of the year when they test if they can live without the daily pleasures of chocolate, coffee, cigarettes or a glass of wine. It´s like a second New Years resolution, though within  a limited time span which makes it much easier to keep. With an chocolate Easter bunny as a reward, even I can deny myself a chocolate bar. 

But this is another story.


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Fasching, Fasnet or Carneval – Licence to Run Wild

“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.


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