Monday, February 11, 2013

Karneval, Fastnacht, Fasching, Fassenacht, or Fasnet: It's a Wild and Crazy German Tradition

Politicians catch Carnival spiritWe here in the U.S. know it as Mardi Gras, but it Germany, it's variously called Karneval, Fastnacht, Fasching, Fassenacht, or Fasnet,depending on the region. If you visit a town in Germany’s Rhineland or in the southwestern region during the supposedly dark days of winter you’re likely to find the whole place thrown topsy-turvy. That's because the period before Ash Wednesday is known as Carnival or the fifth season.  The celebration has its roots in the spring celebrations of pre-Christian times, when people wore masks to scare away winter spirits and welcomed the rebirth of nature with singing and dancing. Today it is observed mainly in Catholic regions as a season of feasting and fun before the fasting period of Lent.

Organized revelry in the Rhineland
Parliamentarians in Erfurt get into the spirit of Weiberfastnacht or women's Carnival.  While some localities like Cologne mark the beginning of the season on November 11 at 11:11 a.m., the highpoint always occurs in the six days before Ash Wednesday when everyone from government officials to school children give themselves over to organized revelry. People may be laughing and having a good time, but for the hundreds of Carnival societies in the region, the season of festive sessions, balls and parades is serious business.

The Thursday before Ash Wednesday is  known as “women’s Carnival” in some regions. Women literally assume power and symbolically storm the town halls in many places. Men are advised to wear an old tie since the women are liable to cut it off on and compensate the bereft wearer with a kiss.

This particular Thursday is known in other regions as fat or dirty Thursday. The name goes back to the tradition of slaughtering an animal on this day for the last meal before the fasting period. To prevent the fat from going bad people cooked food which was particularly rich in fat or else used the grease for baking.

Parade float Rose Monday parade floats poke fun at politicians and the issues of the day, like this one in Düsseldorf aimed at bankers.  Sooty Friday gained its name from an old custom according to which children daubed their faces with soot. Fewer festivities are held on this day.
Rose Monday is the climax of the Rhineland Carnival, with huge parades held in n the cities of Cologne, Düsseldorf and Mainz. Millions of people line the streets singing, dancing or just rocking too and fro. The day is not an official public holiday, but few people are expected to show up at work or school.
The parades feature floats that poke satirical fun at politicians and their policies or otherwise comment on the issues of the day. Costumed musicians, dance troupes and mounted guards are also part of the fun.

Fools with rules
Carnival in Rottweil
Carnival in the southwest town of Rottweil has long-standing traditions.  Each city and town has its own Carnival traditions, but in Southwest Germany, the Swabian-Alemannic Carnival differs considerably from the Rhineland version. In 1924, the Association of Swabian-Alemannic Fools’ Guilds was formed with the aim of reducing the influence of the Rhineland carnival in the areas of Freiburg and Tübingen as well as part of German-speaking Switzerland.
The Swabian-Alemannic carnival is governed by particularly strict rules. Generally speaking, only those who have lived in the city for more than 15 years can take part. The masks and the costume also have to conform to historical precedents – unlike at the carnival celebrations in Cologne or Mainz. Accordingly, every fools’ guild has carnival masks, usually intricately carved from wood, which are handed down from generation to generation.

Maintaining Sorb traditions
Zapust in the Spreewald region This pair of four-year-olds is all dressed up for Zapust celebrations in the Brandenburg village of Neu Zauche.  In eastern Germany, the Sorbs, a Slavic nation that settled in the Lusatia region, celebrate the Zapust or Shrovetide at this time of year. Zampern, which means going from house to house and collecting gifts, is an important part the festivities. A noisy procession wends its way through the village with the aim of driving out the spirits of winter. The merry group in fancy dress stops at every farm to ask for gifts of bacon, eggs and money. To show their gratitude the revelers treat the farmer to a glass of schnapps and invite the lady of the house to a dance.

The boisterous celebration is held every year on a weekend between mid January and the beginning of March. Another aspect of Zapust is a procession of girls dressed in traditional costumes and boys in suits who go around the village visiting those residents who have contributed most to the community such as the mayor, the pastor or local craftsmen. In the evening the young people gather in the village pub for a bumper egg feast and all those taking part tuck in to a hearty meal of bacon and scrambled egg.

Friday, February 1, 2013

News: Spoken Slowly (Langsam gesprochene Nachtrichten)

For students of German 2A/B, here's a good site to check out to "train your ear".  The short news clips are spoken more slowly for you to read along with the text.  Try it out here.

And check out this "telenovella" from Deutsche Welle, Jojo sucht das Glück.  Here's the first episode, with more here on YouTube.  

Word of the Week/Wort der Woche: Die Qual der Wahl

Word of the Week: Qual der Wahl

Feb 1, 2013
Every Friday, and The Week in Germany highlight a different "Word of the Week" in the German language that may have serve to surprise, delight or just plain perplex native English speakers.
Qual der Wahl
"Wer die Wahl hat, hat die Qual"Enlarge image"Wer die Wahl hat, hat die Qual"(© picture-alliance/dpa)
If you have many options on the table and are finding it hard to make up your mind about something, you may be suffering from "die Qual der Wahl" (the agony of choice).
The expression, which Germans love to use because it rhymes nicely, literally describes "the agony of choice" one is confronted with when there are, simply put, a lot of potential options available that seem equally appealing. The noun "Qual" means pain or agony, and the noun "Wahl" means election or choice. Put them together with the feminine article "die" (the), and you have the idiom "die Qual der Wahl."
Hence you could say that "Wer die Wahl hat, hat die Qual," which literally translates as "Whoever has (the) choice, has (the) torment," but effectively means "The bigger the choice, the harder it is to choose."
On its own, however, "Qual" is a far more unpleasant word, as it relates to "Quälerei" (atrocity, torture, agony, torment) and the verb "quälen" (to torment, tease, pester, punish, torture). "Qualen erleiden," for instance, means "to suffer agonies." Or the sentence "Die letzten Monate waren für mich eine einzige (Qual)" translates into "The last few months have been sheer agony for me."
So in its original context the noun "Qual" is not a really upbeat word, but when combined with "Wahl" in the expression "die Qual der Wahl," it is placed in a much more light-hearted context.