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March, 2004 - Nr. 3


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Dancing in the streets at Cologne’s Karneval

  TWIG - Karneval celebrations brought work in much of Germany to a standstill this week, as the traditional Rose Monday processions took aim at German politicians with floats mocking recent ministerial mishaps.

The motto "Laugh a little - it’s going to get better" rang true with over a million visitors to Cologne as Karneval - the German version of Mardi Gras - reached its climax across Germany with parades, organized hoopla, and beer-fuelled shenanigans.

Germany’s fourth-largest city and its self-declared Karneval capital, Cologne attracted nearly 1.3 million revellers in the six days leading up to Ash Wednesday, the start of Lent, Christians’ traditional fasting period. With a six hour long parade starring 10,000 of the city’s inhabitants, Cologne is the epicentre of pre-Lent celebrations in Germany, called Fasching or Fastnacht in other regions of the country.

All in all, around 10 million people took the streets for celebrations across the country, but mainly in the Roman Catholic west and south.

In Cologne, the festival opened last week with the "storming of the fools" at the City Hall, a tradition that dates back to the 14th century. A kind of citizen’s initiative organized by the women who used to have just one day of rule over their spouses, the only remnant of the tradition to survive today is the cutting off of men’s neckties.

In a year which has seen painful welfare cuts and an often agonizing debate over economic reforms, Germans were ready to party as celebrations got underway. Karneval-crazed Germans from Mainz cheered that "the elixir of life is still laughter in 2004," while the people of Düsseldorf shrugged their shoulders complacently, saying "What comes, comes."

Revellers nonetheless stuck to tradition when it came to floats poking fun at politicians. One showed Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder with a chainsaw in place of his nose, a play on welfare cuts the government pushed through parliament in December.

Another showed German Health Minister Ulla Schmidt, who championed health reforms criticized for making dental treatment more expensive, grinning broadly with a gap-toothed smile.

Finance Minister Hans Eichel was portrayed as a hen laying a golden egg - and demanding that party-goers fork over a "50 cent tax for every laugh."

Opposition leaders weren’t spared, either, with many conservatives shown pumping iron - underlining their hopes of matching California governor Arnold Schwarzenegger’s success at the ballot box.

Those getting dressed up for the parades also donned grotesque masks featuring the faces of political leaders. But the traditional costume for Karneval celebrations remains the joker, or the clown, although recent trends point to the rising popularity of animal masks and - in Düsseldorf and Duisburg - a strong demand for pirate costumes.

Karneval’s beginnings reach as far back as Greek and Roman times, with the celebrations of Dionysus and Bacchus. In the Middle Ages, the earliest Germans counteracted the dark winter solstice by donning grotesque masks to scare off unwanted spirits.
Republished with permission from "The Week in Germany"



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