Alaaf! Is the salutation used during Carnival, and is distinct to the region of Cologne and most of the cities and towns on the left side of the Rhine, while most cities and towns on the right side use the greeting Helau, but there is a difference so make sure you don’t use the wrong greeting in the wrong city or you risk getting your ass kicked. Okay I’m exaggerating, but you might be thought a fool and it could end up being pretty embarrassing.
I was invited by some German friends to partake in a day of costumed debauchery, to celebrate an annual event known as Carnival, in the small district of Ubach-Palenberg.
The day of partying gets kicked off with a parade, which I decided to skip due to my to my recent inability to be any place before 2:00 pm (work being the exception) and opted instead to only attend the after parade celebration. Last year I attended the parade but didn’t do any partying so I do get the gist of what the full Carnival experience is supposed to be like.
I’d like to mention that I’m a rookie and only made it to the one Carnival party, but hard core Carnivalistas can get their jollies all week, attending all day parties taking place in different towns in the area.
Historically Shrove Monday (before Ash Wednesday and known to the Germans as Rosenmontag) was the traditional day to have the Carnival parade, but due to attendance being spread to thin among all the towns it was decided at some point to hold their parades on different days, allowing people to attend many parades and thus ensuring a better turn out.
Now I gotta be honest here, in a small district like Ubach-Palenberg the parade is nothing to write home to mom about. What you’ll get are people in unimpressive costumes throwing candy and little toys to the cheering spectators from floats blaring Shclager music. I’m not trying to put anyone down, I love Ubach-Palenberg, and I get it, you do what you can with the towns Carnival budget, all I’m saying is, if you want to see serious floats and extraordinary costumes then head to Cologne, Dusseldorf or Mainz to experience Carnival on a much grander scale.
But as with any event, it’s really the people that make the party atmosphere, and the people of Ubach-Palenberg have that down to an art. After the parade at about 12:00pm people headed to a night club (but for this event was an all-day club) called RockFabrik (translation: Rock Factory), where people of all ages spend the day drinking, dancing and laughing, and I really mean of all ages, from babies to grandparents ALL DAY.
A huge tent was set up specifically for this Carnival event and was attached to the RockFabrik night club so that it could be accessed without having to go outside. The tent side is where they played mainly Schlager music (music that to me often sounds like drinking songs, like you might here in an Irish Pub only in German of course) with the occasional North American song thrown in -YMCA anyone? There were beer, wine, and food kiosks set up in the tent but if you wanted hard liquor you had to walk the 50 meters to RockFabrik and order at the bar.
The RockFabrik side is also where they played hip hop, house and Top 40 music, to accommodate the teenagers, young adults and young at heart like myself who never seem to grow up and will put any teenager to shame on the dance floor as I go hard to Fatman Scoop’s ‘Put Your Hands Up’.
I must admit that although I am not a big drinker, day time drinking was pretty fun, and on the RockFabrik side of the party it was dark, with typical club lighting going on so you almost forgot that it was only 3 in the afternoon as you knocked back shots of tequila with your friends.
Everyone’s spirits were high, and like any Carnival party, it’s a time for laughing, mingling and hooking up. Yup, hooking up is part of the Carnival experience, “That’s why so many babies are born in November,” said Ralf Schmitz, a born and bred Boschelner, (Boscheln is one of the towns in the Ubach-Palenberg district) who NEVER misses Carnival and who by the way he’s born in November.
The roots of Carnival date back to the middle ages, although even before that people were celebrating some form of Carnival to welcome the end of winter and beginning of spring. In Roman times it morphed into a celebration of the Wine God Dionysus which involved a lot of drinking, feasting and laughing. During this time of celebration you also had complete freedom to criticize authority. This is still seen today as many of the Carnival festivities include stand up performances by comedians and singers that satirize their politicians as well as with floats in the parades that un-flatteringly depict political figures .
With the Christianization of the Germans along the Rhine came the incorporation of Carnival into the Catholic calendar of events, although it was no longer about celebrating a wine God (because that would just be heathenism) but instead it was turned into simply being a time to let loose before the lent crackdown. Basically it was a compromise by the Church, “We’ll let you get buck wild for a week if you promise to be REALLY good during lent.”
How costumes came into play is that people didn’t want to be recognized while they engaged in acts of excessive drinking, and hooking up with random strangers, (I wonder if they took the costumes off while they were actually “doing it”) but back in the day it was masks rather than costumes as we see them today. Now a day any type of costume goes and it’s not really about hiding your identity but rather just part of the fun.
I am sad to say my costume was very lame, an old pair of black tights, a black top, black eye makeup, black wings, and a wig. I called myself “death” (I told you it was lame) but some people went all out and I saw some really fun costumes which I did not do justice with my poor quality smart phone pictures, taken with the shaky hands of myself and others who were half in the bag.
I am thankful to the friends I made in Germany who are always eager to invite me to their festivities, giving me a chance to really immerse myself in their culture, and I look forward to having a more complete Carnival experience next time and going to the parade AND the party in the same day. Here’s hoping I can get up in the morning.