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November 11, 2006

The Fifth Season

Today, at 11.11 a.m. the Fifth Season started in Germany. It is the official beginning of the Carnival season. The highlights of this season are still far away - they will mark the end of Lent next year and consist of parades, marches and public sessions of carnival clubs. The most famous parade in Germany is the one on Rose Monday in Cologne.

The origin of the carnival season reamains a bit of a mystery. One theory is that it even predates Christianity and marks the beginning of spring. Putting on masks, making loud noises and music during parades and processions should help to scare away evil spirits. Only later on the processions were devoted to patron saints. So the celebration of carnival is always closely related to areas of Catholic population.

In Germany the Carnival 'strongholds' are found along the river Rhine, namely Düsseldorf, Köln (Cologne), Koblenz and Mainz. Here Carnival festivities took on added momentum in modern times as a means of expressing anti-Prussian and anti-French thoughts during the times of occupation. Until today this is shown in the famous Rosenmontagsumzüge (Rose Monday Parades). Especially in Cologne the figures and topics displayed there are extremely political. The same is true for the public sessions of the Carnival clubs. Some of these are on TV and the speakers are allowed to tell politicians what they think of their work. Some are very witty and good at that. And you see the quite a number of well known politicians sitting in the audience. Apparently they feel being ticked off in public is better than not being seen at all. That might make people think they are afraid or have something to hide.

The begin of the season on November 11 is marked in many cities by the symbolic handing-over of town halls to the 'Narren' (Fools). This is a big event in Mainz and Cologne where thousands of costumed people are out in the streets and watch the Mayor being taken prisoner and the 'Narren' taking over the Town Hall. From now on preparations will begin for festivities at the end of the season. Wagons have to be assembled for the parades and speeches have to be written for the sessions.

When I was five years old we moved from the Protestant, Carnival-free North to a small town in the Rhineland, right between Düsseldorf and Cologne. We had a great time as kids. Four weeks before Ash Wednesday we would insist on going everywhere in costumes. Mind you, in the sixties, costumes consisted mostly of our everyday clothes which our mothers would alter by adding fringes to the seams of our trousers to make us look like Red Indians. Other favourite costumes were Cowboy, Pirate and Clown - all easily achieved with very little. The more affluent ones among us had cowboy hats or tomahawks - I had at least a very cheap revolver but had to economise on the ammunition. My pocket money didn't take me very far those days. We always thought it a real shame that we weren't allowed to wear our costumes in school. The teachers were afraid that competition and jealousy would spring up among the children. Hmm. Those were the days before everyone tried to walk around in Diesel jeans and Nike trainers.

The hightlight of the season for us was of course being taken to a procession on Rose Monday. Not to Cologne, where survival chances for small children are not very high for the streets are packed, but to smaller ones in the neighbouring towns. During the procession sweets are thrown from the wagons and we kids were busy collecting them. Often the weather in February would be cold and rainy and we had to fish quite a number of sweets out of little pools. At home our loot would be weighed (you had to show off to your friends after all!) and often dried on the radiator in the childrens room. The best sweets we ever had, if you ask me, even if we had difficulties getting the paper off them after the drying process.

I wish everyone a happy fifth season of the year!

Posted by Mausi at November 11, 2006 01:07 PM

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