the finest Carnival

THE FINEST HISTORY – CARNIVAL

It’s carnival, the Fifth Season. Planned chaos.

They actually exist, those bets that you definitely do not want to lose, because the extent of the wager is quite simply too great (or painful): downing a bottle of Tabasco… OK; asking the nearest police officers if Mummy laid out the same clothes for them that morning… fine; even ordering Big Macs at Burger King for the entire drunken mob of friends at your back (wearing a tutu, of course)… a given. All that is nothing, nothing at all, compared to the wager concluded in the illustrious circle of friends around our no less illustrious magazine, whereby the esteemed loser has to watch and listen to excruciating carnival broadcasts on German television (Mainz remains Mainz, as it sings and laughs) for the entire torturous 240 minutes. At full volume. Without getting up. Without falling asleep. Without crying. And all of it in a sober state…

Who will ultimately lose this year? We don’t know yet. One thing, however, we do know for sure: once again this year, carnival forces us to wonder why Homo sapiens, who by definition has the ability to think, will once again make a concerted and voluntary effort to wriggle into costumes that are a strain on both your figure and your dignity, and struggle through virtually Siberian outdoor temperatures to throw sweeties that are as hard as stone and well past their use-by date at people’s feet and even heads while attempting, in a drunken stupor, to sing at least the chorus of the most profound hits of German boom-boom pop music, without errors or excessive slurring, through lips polluted with glittery lipstick.

It’s carnival, the Fifth Season. Planned chaos. A million-dollar business, peppered worldwide with a wide variety of folk customs: it certainly looks appealing in Rio de Janeiro when the dancers of the legendary samba schools parade through the streets in their exotic costumes, whereas the Canadians prefer to get more or less naked and drunk in the snow; traditionally, carnival in Galaxidi in Greece ends with a rampant ‘flour fight’; carnival has been celebrated in Notting Hill, England, in August since the mid-1960s; in Oruro in Bolivia, devils called ‘diablada’ compete by dancing; and in Venice, behind artistically decorated masks, they admire an angel hanging from a bell tower above the Plaza San Marco.

Carnival, “carne vale” – the origin of the name, we are certain, lies in Latin: “carne vale” means something like “bye bye meat”. At the beginning of the 12th century, the Christians really painted the town red before holy Lent –gluttony on a biblical scale, if you like. It was all accompanied by disguises and role-plays, where the fool in men (and women) was allowed to raise proper hell before having to forgo meat, fat, eggs and milk for 40 days (which are actually 46 since the Synod of Benevento excluded the Sundays from Lent, effectively bringing the actual fasting period forward by six days).

A deeply humanistic idea

On the other hand, carnival is also based on a deeply humanistic idea: an ancient Babylonian text from the 3rd century BC documents that under the Priest-King Gudea a 7-day festival was celebrated during which “milling grain” was prohibited and the “slave of the mistress” was to be regarded as equal to the “slave at the side of his master”. Similar festivals, usually accompanying the awakening of nature in spring and focussing on the principle of equality, can also be found in other Mediterranean cultures.

In those days, what a surprise, the festivities were still deeply associated with the kingdom of the gods and not with the world of commerce (becausecommerce, as the esteemed reader of this magazine knows, only became the new god of the western world much later). Nowadays, carnival (worldwide), with all its exuberance, is also an economic driver.

In Germany, the Carnival Monday parade in Cologne alone attracts around a million people from all over the world – sloshing a massive 500 million euros into the cash registers (around a quarter of the Germany-wide carnival turnover of two million euros per year). At their neighbours in Düsseldorf, estimates indicate that around 3,500 employees profit permanently from carnival; nationally, according to a survey by the German Carnival Association, this involves 40,000 employees in more than 3,000 companies. They make, among other things, the toffees mentioned above – and Cologne is anything but stingy with those: on Carnival Monday alone, a massive 330,000 tonnes of sweeties are thrown into the crowd, including 700,000 bars of chocolate and 220,000 boxes of pralines. And as at least the packaging remains lying on the street, around 111 tonnes (not a joke number, but thanks for paying attention…) of trash from the parade are burned in the residual waste incineration plant in the Rhine metropolis. And what becomes of 111 tonnes of trash? Exactly: 67,000 kilowatt hours of power… or the requirements of 20 two-person households per year. But now: enough of the numbers games and smalltalk from the Rhineland –carnival is just around the corner, here in Andalusia naturally above all in Cádiz. There, the festivities last from 20 February to 1 March and are part of international cultural heritage.

So: off into the tumult – we bet you will have fun… and if we lose the bet, you know what awaits us… and even worse: we’ll be sober.