Why Karneval is more than Germans getting pissed in subzero temperatures


As I wandered through Trier this morning I saw security gates up and guards checking bags in Trier’s main square. Video surveillance, more than 160 police officers and a ban on glass bottles make the security measurements of the Christmas markets look meagre. The high-security presence constitutes part of the Jugendschutzstrategie (youth protection strategy), which was put in place after the 2012 Karneval celebrations that resulted in many teenagers with alcohol poisoning. 

Today is Weiberfastnacht, which marks the beginning of the celebrations of Fastnacht. Also known as Weiberdonnerstag (Das Weib (singular), Die Weiber (plural) = archaic word for ‘woman’; Donnerstag = Thursday), this Rheinland tradition is said to have begun in Beuel (Bonn) in 1824 when a group of laundresses decided they were fed up with washing linen and clothes as others celebrated and decided to storm the town hall and take over the government. This tradition is performed today in cities around Rheinlandpfalz.

So what’s the history of Karneval and why is it such a big part of Rheinland culture?

Karneval is specific to the Rheinland, whilst Bavaria, Austria and Saxony celebrate Fasching (“Fasting”). The word comes from Latin carnelevale (to get rid of/ take away meat). The Christian festival is celebrated in many countries and in the Rheinland area it’s laced with satire. Parades meander through cities and amongst the “Jecken” (jesters) are floats mocking politicians. In 1794 the French revolution took over the land west of the Rhein. The Teutonic Rheinlanders took advantage of the Karneval celebrations by using it as a time to ridicule their leaders. 

Float in Düsseldorf (photo = the local)

The Karneval season begins on 11th of the 11th month at 11 minutes past 11 and each city celebrating Karneval has an Elfferrat, (council of eleven people that organise the six-day festival). Although the German people poked fun at those in charge of their country, they respected the motto of the revolution: égalité, liberté, fraternité, whose abbreviation “elf” is the number eleven in German.  

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