“What are those kids doing?” I ask. It’s raining and two girls are standing in the middle of the street below the apartment, wearing aprons and carrying rolling pins. Every time a car comes along, they stretch a colorful rope across the street in an attempt to stop them. Most of the cars avoid the girls completely, slipping quickly around them. Some stop and give the girls candy and money.
“Ah, Faschingszoll. Carnival toll. Begging for candy basically.”
I’d been watching people in costumes stroll past the window all weekend. Witches and cows. Cowboys and Indians. Bright sparkley wigs and soft red noses. All on their way to parades and costume parties and all-night binge drinking extravaganzas.
Carnival in Germany technically begins in November (the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month), but the real party starts on the Thursday before Ash Wednesday when a bunch of ruffians, probably still drunk from the night before, symbolically occupy city halls everywhere, which mayors everywhere symbolically hand over, signaling the start of a preordained chaos that lasts until Rose Monday. Women cut off men’s ties (Altweiberfastnacht, the first day of Fasching), decent people are permitted to start drinking at breakfast, and you can pinch the cute new chippy from shipping’s ass without fear of a sexual harassment suit.
Köln, Düsseldorf, and Mainz have come to be the three kings of the season. There Carnival is taken with a religious seriousness and beer is downed like it was the piss of Jesus Christ himself. The tradition cemented itself so firmly in the Rhine area because of it’s origins as an expression of anti-Prussian and anti-French occupation sentiments. Protest through parody and mockery. Here here, I’ll drink to that.
In recent years, however, Fasching has morphed from an act of protest to an act of hedonistic surplus, a time when you are allowed to (warning: tired cliche incoming) “let down your hair,” drink until your eyes cross, wear a red foam nose, sleep with your secretary, and not lose an ounce of dignity in the process.
Television broadcasts live from the center of it all kill any lingering curiosity about the event I may have once had. The newscaster is dressed as a clown, and is clearly drunk. Crowds of other drunken clowns, make-up already starting to smear, line long beer garden tables and listen to unbearable, never-ending comedy acts, and this comes eerily close to my idea of hell.
Fasching, a friend of mine tells me, is supposed to be the one time of year when you are allowed to completely be yourself and to do what you really want. It makes instinctive sense in Rio. In Germany it begs the question: is who we really are a bunch of alcoholic circus clowns with smeared make-up?
Needless to say I didn’t participate this year. I would next year, but I’ll probably have to clean my refrigerator. I prefer to act like an idiot 365 days a year. At least it keeps the hangovers manageable.