Experiencing Carnival

Carnival (Karneval) is a longstanding festival that begins each year on 11 November at 11:11 a.m. and finishes on Ash Wednesday with the main festivities happening around Rosenmontag. It is celebrated in different ways according to different local traditions. The biggest and zaniest Rhine carnival in all Europe is held in Cologne (Köln) (http://www.carnaval.com/germany/index.htm #REGIONALLY). Studying in Cologne provided me an opportunity to experience it. Although I had read about the traditional custom of celebrating Carnival in Germany, personally witnessing and participating in it left a deeper and unforgettable impression on me.

 

The Thursday before Rosenmontag is women's carnival night (Weiberfastnacht). That day allows women to cut off the tie of any man and to kiss any man.

When I was walking to class, I saw many men wearing no ties. Of course, they were well prepared, either wearing no ties or wearing old ties. I believe some men also desired kisses on that day by wearing ties. Policemen must wear ties on their duty. I could not help bursting into laugh when I saw a policeman's tie cut up to the tie knot. Still laughing, my attention was drawn in the direction of several women who were screaming and dashing towards a man. The man, without realizing what was happening, lost a good part of his tie but got several lipstick marks on his face in return. He turned blue, swearing at the women. Strong and skillful, the women put the man to shame. Poor man. I was astonished, thinking that we Chinese women were trying to our best to respond to Mao Zedong's call that "women can hold up half of the sky", but western women could manage to hold up more than half!

The afternoon of Weiberfastnacht we went to the traditional gathering place, we saw more cutting and kissing. All people were arm in arm, hand in hand, singing and swinging. I joined them swinging although I did not know how to sing their traditional songs.

The first day of carnival parade starts on Monday, called Rose Monday (Rosenmontag). The biggest parade is in Cologne. My friends and I got up earlier only to see that the street in front of the Cologne Cathedral had been already filled with many people. Fortunately we could find a place with a good view. The parade began at 2 o'clock.

                  

The costumed revelers pelted the crowds with sweets and other goodies. The crowd, mainly children with bags in hand, called out, "Karamelle, karamelle ..." When they got something thrown to them, they immediately put them in the bag, filling one after another. We imitated them and had a good harvest from that day. There were things like candies, chocolates, handcrafts, perfume etc.

In the evening several of us were invited by a German family to a carnival party. We again had a jolly time during the evening. At that time I felt very strange when I was embraced by other men, but it was, after all, the Carnival.

       

On the second day each district in Cologne hosts a parade. Thielenbruch is one of the districts that is enthusiastic about the parade each and every year.

Shortly after we had arrived in Cologne, we established contact with the Thielenbruch organization. In order to amaze others in the district, the organization chair came to the idea to build a Chinese dragon and have all participants dressed as Chinese. We were all happy to join them in parade.

     

We were asked to wear costumes made according local Germans' imagination or stereotype of Chinese people: yellow top with three Chinese characters, (big), (middle), (down), and a straw hat that was used mainly in countryside in China. To us only Chinese farmers look like this. I was not sure if the local Germans could understand the difference between their imagined Chinese and us. The dragon had a four-character phrase on it: (ten thousand), 寿 (live expectancy), (no), (boundary). The phrase means "boundless longevity". We used to call out this phrase to wish Mao Zedong to have a long long life. However, the characters were arranged in the wrong order: 无寿疆. The correct order should be 寿无 疆. Fortunately, this happened in Germany; fortunately, it was Germans, but not we Chinese people, who made this serious mistake.

       

Each of us carried a bag with sweets, toys, etc. We marched and danced to music. The dragon, which six men carried, snaked its way through the streets. I also tried to carry the dragon for some time. Wherever we went, the crowd called out towards us, and we gave out things. A boy came and asked if there were ten Chinese people. Obviously, he was proud for his correct counting. Because the Cologne newspaper had reported about the unique event two days in advance, many people came and waited to see "real Chinese". When they saw us, some Germans even said with surprise, "These are truly real Chinese!" We constantly heard other comments, such as "This is indeed a wonderful idea!", "Shanghai-Thielenbruch" etc. Like others I felt good, but I also hoped that Germans would meet and get to know more real Chinese people.