I have a little riddle for you. Today is the last day of what the locals call the fifth season, a season that starts on November, 11 at 11:11 and comes to an end on Ash Wednesday. Can you guess what this season is called? Carnival! Yes, Carnival. In this region of the world, it lasts longer than winter.
One of the first facts that we learned about Mainz was that carnival was big here. Together with Cologne, they have the biggest parade in Germany on Rosenmontag (‘Rose Monday’). From the locals we learned that the parade in the city center might even be too big for little children, that it was better to go to one of the smaller parades in the nearby villages which is what we have been doing for the last four years.
The whole village (and the people of the nearby villages) starts gathering on the streets around the route, all dressed up and often with wine or beer at hand waiting for the parade to start at 3:11 p.m. Tractors pull beautifully decorated wagons on which dressed up (and by the end of the parade dronken) carnavalists are standing throwing candy into the crowds. Most of the local clubs and associations are represented in these marches, going from the youngsters’s soccer club to the church choir, but the best costumes and wagons are reserved for the marching bands, the carnival dance clubs and the carnival associations themselves. By the end of the parade, kids have gathered so much candy that they are good for three months. (It should not surprise you that Haribo is German!)
This was our first introduction into the local carnival madness. And then, two years ago, Janne joined our local carnival dance club (for which she was on the waiting list for a year) pulling us further and further into the carnival madness. In September, the dance club already starts training for the new year, as they perform their first dance around November 11 (11.11). This happens in a ‘Sitzung’, a meeting at which all the carnival association members come together to formally declare the new season for opened. By then, a theme has been chosen and new tailor made costumes are being made for all the girls. And while the girls practice every week (and from January on, twice a week) the carnivalists frantically start preparing for a new season of Parades and ‘Sitzungen’.
These ‘Sitzungen’ or meetings are another typical way of celebrating carnaval together. Long lines of tables are put in front of a stage at the back of which the carnival association board sits and from where they introduce all the different acts. Some acts are a stiff sort of stand up comedy criticizing national and local politics and popular figures. Most acts are from the dance club presenting what can best be described as cheerleading. After the acts, people get their yearly price: a sort of medal or pin, which the true carnavalist has plenty of, pinned on their beautiful four colored hats. And a thank you is given by shouting three times HELAU! HELAU! HELAU! while waving your arm.
The acts depend on the type of ‘Sitzung’. You have general meetings, but also women only or men only meetings. Most popular in our family are the kids’ meetings. These meetings have a variety of acts from the dancing acts of the local clubs to puppet theatre or clowns and organized games. There is cake and coffee but of course also wine for the adults and catching candy for the kids.
So, now you know what we have been doing for the last three Sundays and what we are doing this afternoon for the last time this year. Thank God it is almost spring!