Carneval #1: Getting Ready for “The Fifth Season”

Helau!  Last weekend was the Dammer Carneval.  I’m going to tell you about the fun-filled, four-day event over several posts so there’s no overload.  Get ready!

Carneval is the town of Damme’s largest celebration.  In Damme, the Narrenvolk have been celebrating a week before everyone else since the 19th century.  Apparently, the local priest thought that the debauchery-ridden celebration made a mockery of Lent (what???), so he ordered Rosenmontag (the Monday before Ash Wednesday and typical day of celebration) to be the day for a 14-hour prayer.  In protest, the people in Damme simply moved the Carneval parade and celebration to the week before, allowing for both partying AND prayer.

This year’s parade boasted 10,000 viewers and over 240 floats.  As you can probably imagine, the largest celebration of the year requires lots of preparation and careful planning.  Carneval season technically kicks off on November 11, but many groups plan all year.  One of the these groups is the Carneval Committee, Carnevalsgesellschaft.  This committee prepares each of the large events for the town.  Within the Carnevalsgesellschaft is the Elferrat, the Group of Eleven.  The Group of Eleven consists of 11 men.  Two of the Elferrat choose the Carneval Prince.  To be chosen as the Prince is a great honor, as nearly all of the Carneval festivities are held in his honor.  In addition to the parade, there are also three galas (held at the Gymnasium), overseeing the float building and making public appearances at different local buisnesses.

Not only do the town and the Carnevalsgesellschaft have to prepare, but each of the parade groups have to prepare as well.  The parade group, Carneval-Truppe, is a sacred arrangement.  Anyone may form a group and be in the parade, and one can form a group with friends, co-workers, neighborhoods – anything goes, BUT there is no group jumping.  Changing groups from year to year is frowned upon and considered somewhat asocial.  As a result, some of the groups have been together for decades and contain grandparents, children and grandchildren, who all march together in the parade.

I already had plans to go to the parade with my friends from the Gymnasium.  My acquaintance, Steffi, also invited me to join in with her group for the year so that I could have a real, insider experience.  This meant that I had to get together with the group the weekend beforehand to help with the building.  We all met one snowy Saturday at one of the group member’s workshop.  The group had already done a lot of work before then, so I helped waterproof the top hats for our costume, glue roses onto our cart and consume the cake and Glühwein.

I have to tell you about the theme of our float.  It was a play on words, which is obviously cool.  At least half of the floats have a political theme, and ours was no different.  Apparently, because of the tax breaks for the wealthy in Greece, there were a bunch of German tax evaders who had hidden money there to avoid paying German taxes.  (Weird, right?)  The German word for tax evasion is Steuerhinterziehen.  My group broke the word down to its literal meaning: Steuern are “taxes,” hinter means “behind,” and ziehen means “to pull.”  Steuern also means “to steer.” (Got all that?)  So, our group attached steering wheels to tiny carts and we pulled them behind us.  So clever!

In case you’re getting ready to celebrate Carneval or Mardi Gras in your area, here are some photos of the town’s preparation and our float preparation to inspire you.  3x Damme Helau!

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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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