German Culture Archive

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German Carnival – “Helau!”

(27/02/2013)

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 What is “Karneval / Fastnacht / Fasching”?

The colorful, fun, and crazy German Carnival (Narrenzeit = fool’s time) celebrated every year, seven weeks before Easter in February – it is also called the “Fifth Season”. In the cities of Köln (Cologne, with the largest and most famous  German Carnival) and Düsseldorf (north-western part of Germany) people say “Karneval”, in Mainz and Frankfurt (southern part) they say “Fastnacht” and in München (Munich, far south of Germany) it’s called “Fasching”.

The German Carnival originates in the traditions of the fasting period / Lent, when Catholic people don’t eat meat (Carne vale = lat. Goodbye meat) and don’t drink alcohol. So, before then people like to celebrate and eat everything they want one more time. Today, many people have moved away from this strict tradition, but some still continue.

The first day of Fastnacht starts on 11 November at 11:11 o’clock in the morning (meeting of the Fastnachts Council to organise the upcoming festivities), but the main events take place in the mid of February. People dress up in all kinds of funny, crazy or scary costumes, celebrate and do funny events in schools, clubs, costume balls, and on the street. Traditionally and especially during the Middle Ages, the scary costumes (mostly in the southern part of Germany) were used to scare away the winter. Nowadays, the German Carnival has become more of an entertainment event for children and adults.

The Fastnacht’s atmosphere begins on a Thursday, the Weiberfastnacht (“Women’s Carnival”) where women can kiss any man after cutting off his tie. On the holiday Rosenmontag there are big Fastnacht parades in most German cities (up to 6 or 7km in Köln, begins at 11:11 o’clock and can take up to more than 4 hours.

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Every parade has a funny motto, many dance, carnival and music groups perform. People ride on big colorful floats decorated with huge caricatured figures of politicians and other famous personalities, throw candy, pretzels, and little toys to the audience while shouting: “Helau” (Mainz) or “Alaaf” (Köln, Düsseldorf), which can be seen as the Carneval way of saying “Hello” or “Hurray”.

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The party continues one last time with many costume balls and parties on Faschingsdienstag (“Carnival Tuesday”). On Aschermittwoch (“Ash Wednesday”) everything is over and goes back to normal – after this the Lent period begins.

 

Follow these links to see and learn more about Karneval / Fastnacht / Fasching:

http://www.kindernetz.de/infonetz/thema/fasching/-/id=76312/10hfkh8/index.html

(short German video about the Carnival, includes text)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WpO95kvPWqs

(Impressions of the 2013 Carnival celebrations in Germany)

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Dieser Clip ist sehr lustig: iPad mal anders!

As there are some abbreviations that might make it a bit harder to understand, here is the transcript:

Tochter: Sag mal, Papa – hab‘ (= das habe) ich dich noch gar nicht gefragt – wie kommst’n (= kommst du denn) eigentlich mit dem neuen iPad zurecht, was wir dir zum Geburtstag geschenkt haben?

Vater: Na, gut…

Tochter: Mit den ganzen Apps kommst’e (= kommst du) klar?

Vater: Was denn für Apps? Geh‘ mal bitte einen Schritt zur Seite.

…

Vater: Was is‘ (= ist)?

 

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Sankt Martinstag in Deutschland

Last Friday at nightfall German streets were illuminated once more by homemade lanterns. As every year, on 11 November, young children and their parents participated in Sankt Martin processions, usually organized by their local kindergarten or congregation, carrying lanterns and singing songs. Sometimes they are even accompanied by a real rider dressed like Sankt Martin and a marching band. The lanterns are usually built in kindergarten or primary school but it is possible to buy them just as well, of course. Moreover, there is often a special service for children in church, too.This clip from the “Sendung mit der Maus” should give you an impression.

 

The reason for this is to commemorate not only the anniversary of Sankt Martin’s death but more importantly his good deeds in life. A born Roman, Martin became a monk and later the bishop of Tours. He was the first not to become a saint by martyrdom but because of his exemplary Christian way of life. A very detailed and well-structured overview on the whole topic can be found on the following website: in German!

 

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Some legends tell that he healed and even revived people. However, the most important tale celebrates his Christian way of life displaying his selflessness as an example. It is often performed as a little play by children: Sankt Martin shares his precious coat with a poor, freezing man by simply cutting it into two pieces with his sword. The most well-known song tells this exact story but it contains some phrases that are not used anymore in present day German.