Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Karneval: Helau!

So I just experienced something in Germany that I find quite unique. In fact, you could consider it not to be typical German. This annual tradition is called Karneval, or Fasching. In my area of Germany they say Karneval, but I know in other areas they say Fasching. And my fellow classmates were all in very good moods the week leading up to Karneval, everyone was excited about the event, and therefore I was as well. I could probably describe Karneval in five words:
1. Alcohol
2. Parades
3. Costumes
4. Friendly
5. Freedom

And now I'll gladly explain why I chose those words. The actual celebration of Karneval started at 11:11am, which is when women raid the town halls and cut the ties and shoelaces that men are wearing in order to glorify the independence of women. And thanks to my English teacher, I was sure to wear shoes without laces to school on Thursday. Music blasted throughout the school and interrupted Spanish class, so we got out a little earlier! And so that celebration with the little students in their costumes were running throughout the school for a while before it calmed down again. That night I went to a Karneval party, called Seidenweberhaus with Marie-Claire, and Tamy, another AFSer from Paraguay who was on her mid-stay, but she normally lives in Hamburg. It was a pretty cool party, and a fellow student of mine didn't recognize me because of my pirate costume. But the party was a lot of fun, and my Karneval celebrations started off well.

The parades started on Saturday, but I chilled on Saturday and had another 18th birthday party that night. Like I've said before, the 18th birthday is like a Sweet 16 in the US, along they are a little bit more modest. (And a correction to my entry in January, I had 4 birthday parties in a row, not 3). The party was, surprisingly, Karneval themed and I went as a Gardner.

I went to the Karneval Parades in Tönisvorst (St. Tönis) and Düsseldorf. St. Tönis (the town next to mine) was very nice, and a schoolmate of mine explained to be some of the traditions like the Parade Prince, and how you have to scream "Helau!" in order to get candy. I got some random goodies: I caught a few book marks, tissues, a jelly donut, and gravy mix
...plus normal candy. And in fact, when the parade went by once, we hurried to another location to get more candy, and actually, this new spot was better than the first. It was an average parade, and I ended up skipping the parties on Sunday night because I was already whipped out. I guess you could say I had a little bit of culture shock experiencing these traditions for the first time. For example, some random person threw tons of confetti (which I'm still finding in the crevices of my jacket) on me and I didn't know how to react. I believe you're supposed to smile, look happy and scream Helau! But instead I was more confused. My friend yelled "He's an American exchange student...he doesn't understand!!" And they understood my reaction. (Just a note: Germans say "Sorry" in German...not so much "Entschuldigung"). And after the parade ("Umzug" in german), I went home and hung out with my neighbor, Raphael and my host family. We watched first 'I Love You Man' and then M*A*S*H.
(I was dressed as a Marsupilami).
However the pinnacle of Karneval is Rosenmontag. Rosenmontag ("rose Monday") earned this name from the Karneval headquarters, Köln. Since the 1800s, the parade in Köln was always on this designated day. But Rosenmontag got the name because also on this Monday, every year a rose would be dedicated to the Pope. And just to mention, Rosenmontag comes two days before Ash Wednesday. And so this pinnacle or zenith of Karneval was also the best of my Karneval celebrations. I went to Düsseldorf on Rosenmontag and the parade was phenomenal! It was around 2 hours long! There were quite an array of costumes and floats. A lot of political humor, for example they made fun of each German political party and figure (Angela Merkel, etc.), the Italians with their relations to the Mafia, the Danish, and Barack Obama. The first one I saw was the float of Barack, and then after seeing 20 political cartoons about the Germans, I accepted it only as a joke, figuring that the Germans can make more fun of themselves. And so everyone was dressed up in costumes (for every Karneval festivity in fact). And alcohol was EVERYWHERE!! But I'll get to that in a little bit. But in general, the day was incredible. I met a lot of random people, with interesting stories. I doubt they were 100% true considering the alcohol levels in their blood, but it was overall a great time. And after the parade, everyone danced in the streets with music and drank more. In fact, I ran into another CBYXer from New Jersey (Betsy) there! And that party on the street went into the wee hours of Tuesday morning. But I called it quits around 9:30 after being there for 11 hours. It was the best experience of Karneval for me. Oh and by the way, my costume was a Marsupilami (some cartoon character that looks like a Cheetah) that was a costume Domi wore a few years ago.

And so now to explain my impression of Karneval I could describe it in two words: untypical German. My English teacher explained to me (before Karneval) that Germans keep their emotions bottled-up inside all year, and Karneval is when they let their emotions run wild, (or in other words...you had the freedom to dress and act as who you'd like to and not be judged). They will befriend a stranger on the street, but only for the 5-day period of Karneval. And after those five days, they will go back to the way they were before. (A week later, a German probably wouldn't say Hi, smile or acknowledge to the person they met during Karneval.) And even though that was a little sarcastic how she explained Karneval to me, there was definitely truth to it. Everyone was influenced by alcohol somewhat, and this is why Germans tend to be more openly friendly. I noticed this especially in Düsseldorf. But fortuantely, I only experienced meeting friendly people, and I didn't witness any aggressive drunks, which I consider a blessing. It was a very exciting 11 hours in Düsseldorf because I met more exchange students, I met people that spoke English, Spanish, Portuguese, French, and German. I ran into fellow Americans. It was cool just to be able to have a random conversation like I can in the USA (for example, waiting on line in the supermarket with another customer or the cashier). That seldomly happens here, but it was quite frequent and common during Karneval. And because of these radically different personalities, I considered this experience wonderful! I was safe the entire time; I know some people ended up going to the hospital because of illness or injury. I didn't freeze because I had dressed warm enough. I was with people that weren't overally crazy. Karneval was an experience that I'd never really had before, and even though I felt like it was a phenomenal time, I'll probably wait a few years before I head back: in other words, I'm happy to have experienced Karneval, but I think the one time was good for now.
Some of the People I Met:






And this year, I didn't say Happy Valentine's Day at all. In fact, I was more busy saying "Helau!" because I was at a parade, and since Valentine's Day fell on Karneval, Valentine's Day took a back seat to Karneval.

And Tuesday, there were still a few parades going on, but I was, I guess you could say, "all Karnveal-ed out". So I met up with my friend, Marie from Belgium, and we ended up ice skating, and there were small children that were better than me...it was embarrassing, but definitely a good laugh. And before I knew it, I was back in school. Friday, after school, Lucka and I explored Wuppertal, but there wasn't anything exciting. And I accomplished my challenge (for myself) not to go on Facebook for a week! But now the pictures of Karneval are uploaded in 6 Photo Albums, separated by event.

Schönes Wochenende!!
Matt

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Human Nature exists in Germany too...

So there are two things that I wanted to write about that I've recently noticed that don't typically happen in my life at home. They can be funny in a way, but also seen as annoying:

1. Germans love fresh air. All year round, they love it! For example on Monday, I was in class, and the window was open, which is a typical thing during class. I sit next to the window, and I closed it after the class instruction started, for the simple reason that I felt like I was sitting on an iceberg. The teacher and several students looked at me like I had three heads, and told me to open the window again and let some "fresh air" in. Those are the two words that are going to drive me to insanity: "Frische Luft". And on Tuesday, it was SNOWING and they still opened the windows! And because I'm the lucky student who sits next to the window, the other students ask me to occasionally open the window for them. I'm starting to reply, "If you would like some fresh air, you can go outside for five minutes during the break and come back inside. We don't need to bring the outdoors inside all year round." So if you couldn't catch onto my sarcasm and reluctance, then you should come to Germany and experience it yourself. And this happens everyday, and the windows are always open during the breaks between class. And the windows can open like a door on hinges, or they can tilt around 15º as shown here:. And Germans choose the more extreme option of letting in as much fresh, crisp (particularly cold) air in the room as soon as possible. And I have worn my winter jacket during class.

2. Germans are planners, not overally spontaneous. Every German I've met has a calendar that they carry with them. And when it comes to planning a date or time for something, they whip those calendars out faster than when a thief pulls out a knife to mug someone. Be careful, you might accidentally get wacked with one as they are being pulled out of the woodwork. (just kidding.) But despite the organization of these calendars (similar to appointment books, homework pads, or agendas), it still took my class 20 minutes to plan a class get-together. Each class has an out-of-school meeting each semester, at least in my school they do. And after 20 minutes, we concluded on a get together sometime in May (and one for March). So like I said, Germans like to plan...way ahead. But it's still human nature to take so long to come to an agreement. And I'm positive it would take about as long for Americans to come to a date in the same situation, minus the calendars.

And starting tomorrow the celebrations of Karneval, also known as Fasching, commence! I'm looking forward to experience something that is well-known as a significant part of the German culture!

Bis dann,
Matt

Friday, February 5, 2010

Februar...zu kurz? Trotzdem lustig!


So it's currently 12:30am, and my brain isn't quite ready to call it a day, so I'd figure I would update this ole thing. And as I have 5 months and one week left of this year left in Germany, I'm really starting to notice how the time seems to be speeding up. I'm understanding more in my classes, and therefore the time seems to pass by. In general, I've really enjoyed my environment and the people around me...I would, however, welcome a weather modification. But overall...it's going very well. I've been in a very good mood lately. Today I was invited to the Krefeld Piguine (Penguins) Ice Hockey game against the Düsseldorf Tigers. It was a phenomenal game with a ton of energy, and my friend and her family, the ones that invited me, are avid Krefeld Piguine fans! And they got a spot (we were in the standing section) right behind the goalie. It was pretty sweet to be so close to the action and hockey is a rather aggressive sport, so I hadn't really experienced such an exciting game so upclose. Did I mention that is was sold out with over 7,000 people there? AFS tells you to welcome every invitation you receive; they do warn that some might be a little boring, or not what you hoped for, but this invitation turned out to be the complete opposite. Krefeld won 2-0, so it was very exciting. I can't think of another word to describe it.



And so February is well-known in Germany for Fasching, or probably better known as Karneval. The beginning of February is the last-minute planning for the festivities with costumes and such. From the 13th-16th there is a huge celebration that I'm not quite sure what to expect. I was told it involves colorful costumes, parades, music, and the all-important, beer. And I'm guessing the rest of the month is a recovery period. And that's February in Germany. I'm sure there will be a few more things in between, but Karneval is the theme for now.

I forgot to mention: The area of buses and trolleys (Straßenbahnen) that my SchokoTicket covers went on strike for Thursday (but only one day). I take the trolley to school everyday, and so I still had to get to school, and some students didn't manage to make it to school because of the strike. (Claude took Marie-Claire and I to and from school.) It was a pretty particular thing. And did I mention the SchokoTicket covers 4 major cities in Germany: Essen, Dortmund, Duisburg, and Düsseldorf. I'm not exactly sure of the conditions why they went on strike, but the streets seemed a little quieter because some many people rely on the public transportation.

The line of cars with kids getting dropped off.

So to finish this blog entry up, I thought I'd finish with my impression on german analysis. Germans analyze everything! It's the way they think.
Question.
Examine.
Analyize.
Ponder.
Test.
Re-question.
Re-examine.
Accept.

In school, everything is analysis. We analyzed American Beauty and Crash in English over the past few weeks. You all know my opinion of American Beauty. And with this analysis comes the direct (and sometimes blunt) comments that are typical German. You seem to be expected to give your honest opinion on food, clothing, hair cuts, etc. And sometimes I'm simply indifferent about things, but it never seems like Germans are never indifferent about food in particular. They will say things like: "You should have used less meat." or "You should have cooked it longer." "It was better the first time you made it.", etc. In other words, honest...but Germans never seem to take anything personal either. But remember to brace yourself...when you ask for an opinion. They will speak their mind, and not lie to let you hear what you want to hear. That's American to not want to hurt your feels...not German (there are not hurt feelings anyway). And another aspect of analysis is asking questions. German questions things differently. Sometimes they seem to approach things perhaps a little skeptical and they pursue to gain a full understanding. They love the question word: Why? (Wieso? or Warum?). Sometimes I find it a bit superfluous, but it's helped me to look at things from another perspective. Who knows? I might come back and ask questions in a similar manner like my fellow students.

Okay this a bit of a simpler blog entry, but I'm content with it and apologize for my grammer.

Schönes Wochenende,
Matt

P.S. Thanks for the Valentine's Day cards Avenel Bottis and Aunt Nancy. I don't think Valentine's Day is so big in Germany because it falls on the same weekend as Karneval.