Helau und Alaaf!

Today, 11/11/11, at 11:10 a.m., an alarm went off on a student’s watch during a 6th grade German lesson.  The classroom started to buzz.  Fifty seconds later, the kids began to countdown from 10.  “…drei, zwei, eins… WAAAAAAHHHHHH!”  As the clock struck 11:11, everyone went nuts.  About a minute later, everyone was calm again, and working on their assignment as if nothing had happened.

Enter the confused American.

Obviously, the countdown to craziness, followed by totally normal behavior, was confusing.  Even more confusing was the fact that it had taken place in this classroom.  The teacher of this group is one of those great teachers with high standards and a no BS attitude, whom all kids both respect and like.  I was surprised that anyone would let an alarm go off in this period, but when the students started cheering, I waited for this teacher to crack down a bit.  Instead, she jokingly waved her arms in the air with the kids.  Is everyone a pod, I thought.  Noting my confused face, the teacher offered the following explanation: “It’s Carneval.”

Oh.  OK.  Isn’t that in February?

What’s Carneval? Carneval, as I understand it, is pretty much Mardi Gras.  It is the dubiously Christian celebration before Lent.  As both a practicing non-Catholic and non-Louisiana resident, I paid attention to neither Lent nor Mardi Gras growing up.  I was aware that my friends in school had given up soda and sweets.  I had heard of a guy/coward who broke up with his girlfriend by giving up girls for Lent.  (Lenten urban legend?)  Even while I was Freiburg, arguably the German capital of random-Catholic-holidays-nobody-else-observes, I had flown to London, unaware that the town would turn to chaos for a day.  I did learn that England celebrates with Pancake Day (snooze), and I was able to snag a sweet dirndl in a used clothing shop for 15 Euro in Carneval’s aftermath (score!).  That about sums up my knowledge of the season.  Apparently, that was about to change.

The Damme Carneval is an old celebration.  The city lies within a Catholic island here in northern Germany, which is predominantly Protestant.  As it turns out, it is also a big Carneval – the largest in northern Germany.  (If you read my Hamburg post, you may recall that I heard two guys discussing Damme’s Carneval on the way to the Fischmarkt.)  They have been celebrating Carneval here since the Middle Ages, but the Carneval Committee has been in existence since 1614. 1614!  People normally celebrate Carneval on Rosenmontag, or the Monday before Ash Wednesday.  However, Damme has celebrated Carneval one week early since 1892.  I am still gathering the historical details on the date change from several sources.  I will present my findings here later.

This is all lovely information, but what does this have to do with November 11th?  November 11th is St. Martin’s Day, and it also opens the Carneval planning season.  In addition to the students in my classroom cheering, at 11:11 a.m. a band, the Carneval Committee, and several onlookers gathered around the Damme Narr to open the season officially.  I am very excited to see how this celebration unfolds over the next few months.  So, as they say here in Damme, Helau und Alaaf, everyone!

Vernarrt in Damme!

Here are some links for more information:


About heidihefeweizen

I am a 29 year-old American woman who has received a Fulbright scholarship to work as an English teaching assistant in a German high school.
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2 Responses to Helau und Alaaf!

  1. Thomas says:

    At exactly 11:11am on 11/11 each year the so-called “Fifth Season” starts, especially when you live in the Carnival centers of Germany (as in Koeln, Mainz, Duesseldorf and such). Rosenmontag (in 2012 it’ll be 02/20) marks the culmination and Aschermittwoch the end of said season.
    I actually didn’t know about Damme’s Carnival tradition. That’s pretty cool. I hope you’re having lots of fun celebrating!


  2. multilayered says:

    Hahaha, nice! Uwe and I discussed plans about shouting “Fasching!” at 11:11am today in the physics department, but that would just have led to everybody else rolling their eyes and thinking that those German-speakers are crazy. So we didn’t do that. Should’ve though. 😉


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