Thursday, February 19, 2009

Weiberfastnacht or, beer at work

Today, standing on the Tennenbusch Mitte tram platform, waiting for the number 16 to roll up I was joined by a 75 year-old monkey. I knew this wasn't going to be a normal day.

Back on November 11th at 11:11, the fifth season of the year began in Nordrhein-Westfalia (NRW), the German state Bonn calls home. Karneval began, the celebration of drunken pleasure that finds echos in Mardi Gras and Carnival. Here in Germany, though, it has special significance and length. The Karneval season is suspended for Advent, then kicks into high gear this week as Lent rears its solemn head.

Today is Weiberfastnacht also known as "Old Women's Day" or "Fat Thursday." If you're wearing a tie today, it will quickly get hacked off by an older woman and she'll plant a wet one on your cheek. I couldn't find a tie for the occasion. It's also the first day everyone busts out their costumes. As I walked to the Institute, I saw cowboys, highlanders, Peter Pan, The Joker, rabbits, tigers, ghouls, and lots of clowns.

As I unpacked my computer, one of the grad students popped her head into the office and invited Vincent and I down the hall to the department's celebration. The champagne (Sekt) is flowing, the pasteries are delicious, and the Kölsch plentiful. With everyone dressed up and celebrating, it feels a little like Halloween, but this will go on for five full days, culminating in a massive parade in Cologne on Monday. It's also a little different because everyone is in the swing of things, not just kids and drunken college students. Older people get together with their friends to celebrate just as raucously as the young ones. Everyone has to have something to repent for come Ash Wednesday, right?

This festival has been around since the Middle Ages but became especially significant in this part of Germany when the Protestant Prussians started collecting the German states in the late 19th century. The crazy Catholics in the West were able to satirize the prudish Prussians with this crazy festival, and no one could say otherwise. Who wants to be known as the jerk that shut down the largest street festival in Europe (those would be Cologne's Karneval celebrations, specifically)?

Well, its time to get back to the party. There's more meat to eat, cream puffs to stuff my face with, and costumes to laugh at (not to mention drinking songs to learn). If you could do me a favor: celebrate a little today or this weekend. I need to bring a slice of this across the pond, and I'll need a little help. Who doesn't want to just kick back with their coworkers and friends and have a good time? Work will come along later....

Kölle Alaaf!

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