Category Archives: German festivals

More weird German Easter customs

While we’re on the subject of strange things Germans do at Eastertime, I should probably mention the tradition of rolling flaming wheels down hills. This one is a clip from Lügde in North-Rhine Westphalia. The idea is to stuff a wooden wheel with straw and set light to it as you shove it down a steep slope. Although this is nowadays an Easter tradition, its origins are actually older than Christianity… the symbolism is all about light returning after the Winter months.

Beats rolling painted eggs into a cocked hat!

 

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Strange German Easter customs

One of the unusual events you can watch around Easter time is the strange sport practised in the village of Buldern in Westphalia.  It is known as Osterhasseln. It involves two teams, one from the East and one from the West of the village lining up in the street and hurling a wooden disk (known as the Hassel) at each other.  The purpose is to get the disk over a line drawn on the street which is the opponent’s territory.

Due to the high risk of bone fractures, the players tend to tape foam padding around their legs… which adds to the overall sense of the bizarre….

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Hang out the Sendschwert… there’s a fair on in Münster!

Münster has a fair three times a year. They call it the Send – which apparently is a derivation of “Synod” and originated with some rather jolly get-togethers of clerics in the 9th century.

When the Send is on, the city fathers hang out the Send Sword, or Sendschwert, on the town hall. This is a disembodied arm holding an upright sword. Apparently this is a reminder that any unruly behaviour at the fair used to be punishable by death.  So when attending the Send, I am always careful not to drop my candyfloss or park illegally. The Münster city fathers might take it personally and decide to impale me.

Sendschwert, Send Sword

A disembodied arm with sword... oh my!

The good news is that those 9th century clerics certainly knew how to party, judging by the modern day Send. Of course the risk of being impaled on the Sendschwert increases with every jug of beer…

Send Münster

Roll up! Cheap beer all week!

A German fair would not be complete without rides. And the Send specialises in the kind of rides which can only be described as absolutely freaking terrifying.  Seriously – I mean who in their right mind would go on this voluntarily? No wonder the fair is announced with the public display of severed limbs!

rollercoaster

Centrafugal stomach churner

I know you’re  thinking that after an afternoon in Bruno’s Bierdorf, it might seem like a great idea to climb onto a contraption which will spin you like an odd sock in the laundromat of life….   but the city fathers have thought of that. Readers, meet German Health and Safety.

fairground germany

Positively no drunks allowed on the ride! Or people who are short, tall, pregnant, or in possession of any other condition known to the medical profession...

Now clearly there is a disconnect here. In order to want to get on the ride you would have to be drunk to the point of near-terminal stupidity. But as soon as you are drunk, you’re not allowed on.

The fair does, however, offer plenty of less dangerous attractions which will part the stupidly drunk from their hard earned Euros. Take, for example, the mechanical grab machine where you can win one of the most psychologically disturbing cuddly toys of all time – the creepy cuddly Michael Jackson doll.

fairground grab

You could win a creepy Michael Jackson doll... the stuff of nightmares!

Suddenly being impaled by the sword-wielding disembodied long arm of the law is sounding like the most compelling attraction at the fair! Well, apart from another jug of the cheap ale, of course.

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Rosenmontag in the Rhineland – parades and politics

We’re in the middle of the fifth season here in the Rhineland. The silly season. Karneval season.

The normally sensible and dare I say, somewhat dull members of the local community will be dressed in odd uniforms, wigs, feathered hats and face paint for the next few days as they go about their normal business or drink in the local pubs.

Karneval

In normal life he's probably a tax inspector

Karneval is now building up to Rosenmontag – the day of the big processions. In the Rhineland there is always a political dimension to the parades. Fabulous floats drive through the streets with oversized 3D caricatures of local, national and international politicians. This year I think we can confidently expect Mr. zu Guttenberg and his cut-and-paste doctoral thesis to feature prominently.

Rhineland Karneval

Serious politics requires a fool's commentary

I also think some of the previous years’ ideas could well be reused…the Hoppeditz clearly didn’t manage to get much changed last time he was (briefly) in power!

Rhineland Karneval

Milking the motorist

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Altweiberfastnacht in Germany

Today is Altweiberfastnacht.

At eleven minutes past eleven, the citizens of Meerbusch (especially the women) will be dressed in strange costumes and storming the town hall. They will emasculate the mayor (symbolically, I hasten to add, by cutting off his tie) and oust him from his seat of power. In his place they will install the Hoppeditz, the fool, who will preside over the town for the rest of Karneval.

For good measure, all other men will also have their ties cut off. (It’s a good day to wear the hideous floral item your auntie gave you for Christmas.)

Karneval

The new town council

After this everyone will present themselves at the local hostelries where they will again set new records in beer consumption, while shouting “Helau!” a lot. Helau is the Karneval greeting in Düsseldorf (not to be confused with Alaaf! which is the greeting in the rival city of Köln).

Cheers and Helau everyone!

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A German diet for Lent? Bullshitters of the Lord and Nun’s Farts.

Next week will be Karneval in Germany – that famous binge-fest of doughnuts and beer.  (Look out hips… prepare for rapid expansion!) But once the five days of revelry are over, it will be Lent. Time for fasting and contemplation.

Of course, German cuisine does not lend itself to fasting. At this time of the year it’s all thick stews and dumplings. The concept of going without meat is alien to most Germans too – especially as the weather starts to warm up and the grill could conceivably be brought back into action.

Perhaps I should follow the example of the monks of Maulbronn and cheat my way through Lent. According to legend, the monks disliked the constraint of not eating meat during Lent, and came up with the idea of Maultaschen – a teutonic form of ravioli where the meat is hidden inside a coating of pasta-dough (where God can’t see it).  These are also known locally as “Herrgottbescheißerle” – literally Bullshitters of the Lord.

Planet Germany

Of course no Fastnacht would be complete at the cloister without a plate of Nonnenfürzle (literally Nun’s Farts).  These are little deep fried sugar doughnuts.  Did I mention that Germans don’t like dieting?

Alternatively I could go for one of the classic German Lenten dishes like Gepreßter Schweinskopf aus Fisch – literally pressed pig’s head from fish. You just boil up a lot of fish, strain out the bones, mould it into the shape of a pig’s head (apple in mouth optional) and serve.  Did I mention that Germans don’t get the idea of not eating meat?

I think after the excesses of Karneval I shall focus on salads. In Germany this means Krautsalat. That’s white cabbage salad. A quick trawl of the internet tells me there are well over 200 different recipes for Krautsalat. Somehow I suspect I’m not going to enjoy any of them.

Now that’s what I call fasting!

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Eurovision in Düsseldorf

We are preparing for the onslaught.

In 13 weeks and 3 days from now (there is, of course, a countdown on the official website) Düsseldorf will be hosting the Eurovision Song Contest and the preparations are in full swing. The local football club, Fortuna Düsseldorf, is vacating its stadium and moving into a “mobile stadium” next door for the period. The city is advertising for volunteer helpers, particularly those who speak minority languages, to support the various delegations. Düsseldorfers are registering online to rent out their spare rooms.You’d almost think we’d all become Swabians!

For those of us lucky enough to live in the city, there is good news and bad news.

The bad news is that the tickets for the final sold out within about 3 nanoseconds of them going on sale. So we’ll have to watch it on TV like everyone else. Or if we live around Stockum or Kaiserswerth, we could just open the window and listen.

Eurovision

The good news is that there will be plenty of great events around Eurovision which we will be able to join in. Obviously there are the “public viewings” – a word which mysteriously entered the German language during the 2006 World Cup and means anything from watching the TV in the pub to joining the masses in a public square where a giant screen has been set up.

There will also be a “fringe” (readers from Scotland will understand what I mean by that)  – the so-called Rahmenprogramm – including a Eurovision Song Contest for kids, flashmobs and the like. The city is currently polling the public for ideas.

Now, I happen to know for a fact that there are plenty of highly creative readers of this blog, so I’m throwing this one open to the public. What should we suggest to them?

Cliff Richard eternal youth makeover sessions? (With Lordi as make-up artists)

Puppet-on-a-string shows?

Vote rigging workshops?

Pure mathematics seminars on the “nul points” theory?

Ring-a-ding-a-ding bell-ringing contest?

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Icicles

As some of the snow starts to thaw on the roof, we’re getting an impressive array of icicles this year. I’m tempted to nip out with a pair of teaspoons and try to play Tubular Bells on them!

 

I’m not the only one who has spotted the potential play value of icicles. We’ve had icicle sword fights, icicle star wars battles and strange ice spikes now emerge from many of our plant pots.

 

Fun toys!

More fun than the actual Christmas presents!

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Christmas tree traditions in Germany

This year we actually did the proper German thing with the Christmas tree. OK, it wasn’t intentional. It was because of all the snow that we didn’t go out early and buy a tree. It was the 23rd by the time I managed to scrape the car free of ice and snow and venture out in search of food, last minute presents and a Christmas tree. Fortunately the entire German nation had also been holed up in the blizzard, so Christmas trees had not sold out.

The tree on arrival was dumped unceremoniously outside the front door where it spent the night.

On Christmas Eve we brought the tree inside and decorated it.

Had we been proper Germans, of course, we would have risked burning the house down and used proper candles on the tree. Given that our house is made of wood and lined with bookshelves, this didn’t sound like the most sensible idea though, so we stuck to electric lights.

Had we been proper Germans, we would have spent the evening sitting round the tree singing “Stille Nacht” and various other traditional Christmas songs. Again, being philistines, in fact although we did gather in the room with the tree, we made our own music which was mainly not particularly Christmassy – although the kids did perform a fabulous jazz version of “Leise rieselt der Schnee” with Dad on piano, son on guitar, youngest daughter on vocals and eldest daughter on the cajon.  Glühwein and Kinderpunsch all round. Admittedly with mince pies.

Presents definitely not opened on Christmas Eve though. We’re not that German!

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German Christmas pyramids

Christmas is the time of year when you construct pyramids in your house.  I don’t mean a Valley of the Kings stone affair… I mean a wooden one with candles and a windmill on the top. Obviously.

The Christmas pyramid is a sort of Heath-Robinson contraption which uses the convection current of hot air from candles to power a windmill and spin the pyramid. Unlike most other German inventions, this one has absolutely no practical purpose. None whatsoever.

Most German homes are content with a small table-top affair these days. Something that looks like this.

By Richard Huber (Own work) [CC-BY-SA-3.0 (www.creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

German towns and cities tend to build rather grander versions – often displayed at the local Christmas market.  The figures on the different tiers of the pyramids rotate, to indicate to people that they have drunk rather more Glühwein than is good for them.  Or something.

Creative Commons

Originally these decorative carved pyramids date from the middle ages and symbolise light driving away darkness at Christmas time (literally and figuratively).  They pre-date the Christmas tree, which became a more popular decoration – probably due to it being easier to chop down a tree and bring it into the house than to spend months whittling away carving a wooden Christmas pyramid.

Many Germans still use real candles to illuminate their Christmas trees – at the annual risk of burning the house down, of course. What is it about Christmas that suddenly makes an otherwise sensible nation forget about Vorsprung durch Technik?

Wikimedia Commons

In the old days families would add to their collection of wooden figures in the Christmas pyramid every year, in the same way that nowadays people buy a few new baubles for the Christmas tree. For those who are trying to decide between a real or an artificial Christmas tree this year – a Christmas Pyramid could be the most amazing artificial tree you ever bought!

Alternatively, if you start carving now, you might have your very own pyramid ready for Christmas 2011….

 

 

 

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