So this past weekend my family had the opportunity to join our neighbours in the annual Fasching Parade in a couple of our local towns. A quick recap: Fasching is the German equivalent of Carnival(e)/Mardi Gras and is celebrated in different ways throughout the country, but with particular enthusiasm in the Catholic regions of Bavaria and the Rheinland. In Bavaria, apparently things follow a pretty traditional course, but out here in the wild west, it's pretty much as close to Rio as Germans can get.
So the timetable: on the Monday before the parades, our neighbours (the proprietors of the local hotel) brought round their photos of last year's parade to give us a bit of an idea what we were getting into, gave us the theme of the year (our float was to be about hiking - but could have political undertones as well) and the deadline. Work was to commence on Friday, and the float had to be ready for Sunday's parade. Having little artistic skill, I was naturally elected to design and paint the float.
Tuesday, my brilliant husband came up with a simple yet elegant design that combined the hiking theme with a little political jibe at our local burgermeister, and making fun - as do all the surrounding villages - of the fact that ours is the only village in Germany where all the streets have the same name. (The brilliantly simple, "Dorfstrasse" - or "village street".)
Thursday I got word that the float would not be ready until Saturday morning, so we'd have exactly 24 hours to complete the thing.
On Saturday morning, I gathered up my paints, pencils and a couple of children (we also borrowed the neighbour's son) and we tucked in, painting up a storm. Miraculously finishing in under two hours (never underestimate the power of 8 - 10 year olds) and being astoundingly pleased with ourselves - the neighbour boy exclaimed, "Ours will be the best float in the whole parade!" - we adjourned to the hotel kitchen for hot chocolate and rolls and a chat with our friends.
But the next day was when things really got serious. My husband piled the kids into the car for the 10 minute drive to our local "metropolis", Kyllburg. There he met up with our neighbours, who brought the float, the music and most important, the beer. After an hour or so milling about in the the gathering area, the floats got into order and the parade and madness began. There were about 50 to 70 floats, some small hand drawn affairs like ours, others giant wagon drawn efforts, depicting medieval castles, jail cells, 1950s dance halls, Roman villas, etc. All blaring related music at the top of the volume control, and all throwing candy for the little ones (also dressed up) and handing out beer, grog and shots to the 1000 or so spectators lining the parade route. The parade started at 14:11, and by 15:30 when my husband and co. reached the natural conclusion of the parade (the beer garden), he said 90% of the participants and spectators were already smashed, but the beer tent was packed and would remain so late into the night. I arrived at about 4 pm, and as I walked toward the town centre, I couldn't believe that I was still in Germany. The streets were an absolute disaster area of confetti, candy wrappers, broken bottles and discarded (plastic) shot glasses. Anyone who's been to a small German town will know how unusual such a sight is! I followed the debris up the hill and soon heard the blaring music from the beer tent and encountered innumerable glazed-eyed Germans tottering around in impossible costumes (2 dozen Che Gueveras? Hawaiian dancers - it was snowing, mind - even Elvis) and finally found my family. The girls had had a wonderful time - the 10 year old tossing candy and waving to her schoolmates, the 8 year old handing out beer like a pro. The younger two practically catatonic, the noise, colour and revelry being too much for their little brains to process. After we got home, my husband (at first an unwilling participant because of a brutal week ahead) admitted that it was the most fun he'd had in months.
Next day, Rose Montag, after a slightly later start (our neighbours were moving slowly, having stayed at the party the night before), we went to another neighbouring village and did it all over again. This time, I got to go along for the experience. Though it was a smaller parade (about 30 floats) and a much smaller crowd - about 200 - the atmosphere was just as festive and madcap, and we dished out similar amounts of candy and liquid sustenance to those who had braved the snow for the event. This time we could see a lot more of the floats, not just those immediately in front or behind us, and it was incredible the creativity and effort that goes into them. The medieval castle, complete with maidens and knights, had even rigged a system of dropping drink (a patented brew - possibly mead!) high from it's crenallated battlements down to us peasants outside the walls below. There were walking alarm clocks, a village full of plastic surgeons (specializing in breast implants), several domestic fowl and a bird flu exterminator squirting everyone's feet, more than one footie fanatic, and even a guy frying up weiners (which were most welcome this cold day!). Though the kids and I couldn't stay long after the parade to participate in the revelry, we certainly enjoyed the silliness of the parade and the crazy spirit of the day.
For us, Shrove Tuesday was a fairly calm affair, but there were many who carried on the party right up until midnight, when the "spirit of winter" is burned and the pre-Lenten shenanigans come crashing to a halt. As my friends pointed out, "from Thursday to Tuesday, it is time for partying and going crazy. And then Wednesday is a religious day, when people stop and think quite hard..."
Plans for next year's float are already underway.