Did you know that Germany has five seasons rather than four? There's Spring, Summer, Fall, Winter, and finally KARNEVAL.
Karneval begins on the 11th minute of the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month and ends February 28th, Faschingsdienstag. In Germany it is celebrated mainly in the Rhineland- Mainz, Bonn, Düsseldorf and Cologne. There are celebrations in other parts of Germany but since I'm in the Rhineland (northwestern Germany) I'm going to focus on Karneval there.
To begin I think I should fill you in on what Karneval is actually celebrating. For someone watching the festivities unfold it looks like a week of getting beyond drunk every day while wearing funny costumes. To the more religious person, this is not entirely the case.
Karneval is a Western Christian holiday. It is a week of celebration before Lent, the 40 day fasting period leading up to Easter. The holiday typically involves a public celebration and/or parade. People wear masks and costumes to lose their everyday individuality and gain a heightened sense of social unity. Excessive consumption of alcohol, meat, and other foods given up during the fasting period is common during the week leading up to Ash Wednesday. In a broader sense the celebration is a time where all everyday rules and norms are reversed or forgotten.
Though not supported by sufficient facts the name Carnaval possibly came from the Italian carne levare which means "to remove meat." This would make sense because meat was prohibited during Lent.
Though Karneval technically starts in November the real festivities do not begin until the Thursday before Ash Wednesday. The official name for this Thursday is Weiberfastnacht. The history of this day began in Bonn, Germany in 1824. During this time, men dominated the Karneval celebration. The women of Bonn refused to remain standing off to the side during the festivities so they formed the Alte Damenkomitee (Old Ladies Committee) to fight for participation in Karneval. Today Weiberfastnacht is celebrated by the symbolic storming of the Rathaus (city hall).
I didn't participate in the taking of city hall in Düsseldorf. Instead I was at a school party in my city. As I may have mentioned once or twice not much happens in Willich but there was a Karneval party happening and I wasn't going to miss that opportunity. I went. And it was awesome. It was the first time I felt like I had really interacted with people from my class and it was very gratifying. I hope to have more opportunities to spend time with people from my city outside of school before I go home in July. Speaking of going home, that exciting/somewhat dreaded day is officially set as July 13th. Book your calendars people, Kale is comin home.
The next day (Friday) I went to a Karneval event with my Rotary club in Köln. It's a very special party held every year to give the typical "Kölner Karneval" experience. The event went from 7pm to 2am. To say I was burnt out by the end is an incredible understatement. I did really enjoy it though. It was a more "typical" German experience than even Oktoberfest in my opinion. There were lots of traditional outfits- people dressed like royalty with tights and hats with feathers five feet long, dancers, bands playing German Karneval music, and comedians. It was a very entertaining evening. Check out my Karneval folder on Facebook to see more photos and videos so you can really see what I'm talking about.
I slept in after that long night but before long was again on the road and off to my Rotary Karneval Wochenende in Düsseldorf. I was reunited for three days with my favorite people in the world, exchange familyyy.
Saturday we had to sit through an exchange orientation again because it was our newbies first weekend hosted by Rotary (incase you forgot what newbies are: exchange students that have just started their exchange, I'm an oldie now whattttt). After the orientation we ate dinner and spent the rest of the night hanging out.
Sunday we got up, ate breakfast, and put on our costumes. We were given two hours in the Altstadt (old city) of Düsseldorf to experience Karneval. We took our music and headed for the stairs. The stairs are one of the most important locations of my entire exchange. They aren't just any stairs, they look out over the entire Rhine river and it is the official meeting place of all exchange students in or around Düsseldorf. There were big crowds there but that didn't stop us from blasting our Latino/Portuguese music and making a dancing circle of 60 people. Many people stopped to watch us laugh and dance and even joined in or tried to make us sing Düsseldorf Karneval songs. This was one of the best moments of my exchange so far. Something about being a part of something so big that people stop and watch and smile or even look at us as if we're completely insane makes me feel great. That is what I love the most about Rotary Youth Exchange.
These people make me happier than anything else...
Rosenmontag (Monday) we watched the Karneval Parade through Düsseldorf. There were quite a few political floats so you can imagine Trump was found a few times, sometimes not in the most flatterring ways...
Okay so none of the floats portrayed Trump in a flattering way but all of their messages were accurate (in my personal opinion) even if they were shown in a somewhat vulgar way.
After the parade we all went home and immediately fell asleep. Three days of Rotary raging are tiring so just wait for that three week Europe tour that's coming up. Ahhhh I'm counting down the hours.
You might've thought this was the last of my Karneval adventures. You would be wrong. It was Tuesday, the day before Ash Wednesday and the end of Karneval. I went to Köln to watch another parade. We watched from an apartment window where candy was thrown with too much force at our faces, minor injuries did occur. A few days before I had discovered that someone I vaguely knew from Portland had been living in Cologne for the past five months. I contacted him and we met to watch the parade together. It was fun to be with someone from home all the way in Germany. This parade was much smaller than the one held on Rosenmontag but it was still a good way to end my Karneval experience.
Karneval is something we don't celebrate in the US which made me love the experience even more. Until a new year Karneval, Kaeleigh