Dedicated followers of Fasching

This sure is one…well-endowed…monkey…

Over the last couple of days in Germany the buzz is all about Karneval, or ‘Fasching’ depending on who or where you are. This is a sort of pre-Lent festival similar to Mardi Gras and making Pancake Day look about as exciting as a cup of tea (which, let us be frank, usually comes alongside the pancakes anyway). For adults it means dancing around the streets half-naked and completely drunk; last Sunday the Karneval parade took place down Kurfurstendamm street, with pasty and cold German dancing women dressed as if they were in Brazil throwing flowers and sweets at apparently rather unimpressed onlookers. For the kids it means that for one day in their Kindergartens they are allowed to wear costumes, eat huge quantities of food (although this is really no different to every day in a Kindergarten), dance and whirl around singing and generally have a fantastic time right up until the Englischlehrerin (English teacher) pops her head around the door and provokes an entire roomful of children to whine, “Neeeeeeeiiiiiinnnnnn…..” Tough, kids. A gal’s gotta earn her three cents a day.

I have tried to understand this funny and vague ‘festival’ but no matter how many German people I ask about it I cannot get a grip on what this whole thing is actually for or about. Most of the Germans I speak to about it here are ambivalent verging on disdainful of the Karneval shenanigans; there is a general feeling of pointlessness about it, particularly because while Karneval is a Really Really Really Big thing in Köln, where people quite literally party like it’s nineteen-ninety-nine, the Berlin Karneval seems to be seen in comparison as a lacklustre attempt to compete. On a broader scale, no-one seems to know what it is for or when it even is; there seems to be no set date or period for the time of festivities but rather it seemed to bleed into one’s peripheral vision over a number of days like ink on wet blotting paper. Schools all celebrate it on different days and in different ways, whereas most adult people don’t really bother to celebrate it at all.

And yet, it is everywhere. Berliners, the big puffy donuts filled with jam that once caused John F. Kennedy to make a bit of a dweeb out of himself, have mystically risen in price by almost two-thirds because they are apparently the cake of Karneval, and they have all begun to feature little fondant things on top which apparently justify them costing 1 euro as opposed to 25 cents. Although we must admit to ourselves that no cake that costs less than a packet of tissues should really be ingested by human people. I have also been told by my flatmate that typically when serving these overpriced boulders at parties there must always be one filled with mustard for one unlucky Karnevaller; he who does unfortunately bite into the Bertie Bott’s Mystery Berliner (‘alas, earwax…’) has to do something special like buy a round of drinks or make a macramé effigy of Udo Lindenberg, but once again I am unable to be more specific about this as I cannot stress enough how little my German acquaintances seem to know about this festival. I would personally embrace my fate, slice the Senf-Berliner in half and fill it with pastrami. Hell, why not, no-one else seems to know what the heck you’re supposed to do.

There is also costume hire all over the city, which is probably the best avenue to go down in this case since costumes cost an arm and a leg to buy and even then it’s really hard to find costumes designed for one-armed, one-legged people

The question is, why go to all this effort for something which seems rather nebulous and much-resented in the German collective consciousness? I do not think I could even come close to expressing in words the sheer exhausted misery that was in the voices of the Kindergarten staff as they sung songs with the kids yesterday morning, but to come close to it you would have to imagine a group of Burger King checkout girls being forced at the end of a 16-hour night shift to sing ‘Happy Birthday’ to a newly born litter of gutter-dwelling rats. I suppose an excuse for a party is always good as Lord knows life is grey enough without the occasional parade of goons in costumes to give it some colour, but I wonder if this is very much like Mother’s Day or Valentine’s Day, something which only has meaning and importance for the people who really, really want it to have meaning and importance while being nothing but a huge money fountain for all the shops and corporations. Either way, it’s over now, and in the absence of having reached enlightenment about a German cultural artefact I think I’ll just make a pile of pancakes instead.

Rose T