Friday, February 24, 2012

Karneval in Germany!

The Karneval season has ended but we were fortunate to have spent it in two countries this year! Having missed the parade in Maastricht, we decided to go to the one in Sittard on Sunday afternoon. This sleepy little village was transformed into a crowded, celebratory place filled with red, yellow, and green and lots of people creatively-costumed.  

The floats were magnificent! It is obvious that lots of time is spent conjuring up a theme and then bringing it to life. Most of the floats seemed political and unfortunately we are not attune to local politics or Dutch language yet, so we just stood by and admired the craftsmanship. What also struck me were the bands. All of them played beautifully and the members were both young and old. Watching them proudly march through the cobblestone streets of Sittard made me want to begin my grade-school clarinet lessons anew. 

The afternoon in Sittard was perfect and sunny. The only time we felt cold was when the wind started blowing. Interestingly, as soon as we began our drive back home the windshield was pelted with sleet. We arrived at our house just in time for it to begin snowing in earnest. This lasted several minutes and then suddenly the sun was shining again in a cloudless sky. I will never understand the weather here.

Luckily Rosenmontag (Roses Monday) was sunny all day long! Ulrike and her mother graciously invited us to watch their villages' parade. We arrived early so Ulrike could paint my face. We were also able to watch some of Cologne's Karneval parade on TV. Apparently is lasts for hours! It reminded me a little of America's Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade, albeit more political and lasting much longer.

Soon Ulrike donned an amazing, handmade costume and we walked down the street to line up for the procession. The mood of the event was reminiscent of my hometown's Fourth of July parade. Everyone was decorated, festive, and excited for a fun day away from work. 

The crowd caught their first glimpses of the approaching floats and soon after all were shouting, "Alaaf! Alaaf!" and extending their bags to collect all of the candy, chips, and popcorn that were continuously thrown from the parade's participants. Once again, costumes were elaborate and the floats were fascinating and clever.

After the parade we went back to Ulrike's house for coffee and pastries. The table was decorated beautifully and all of the sweets and coffee were delicious! We felt honored to be invited and we were happy to spend a holiday with a family again. Ulrike acted as translator for the afternoon. I imagine her mother must be very proud of her as she listens to her young dauther confidently switch from English to German. Though our languages our different, it is amazing how many gestures and expressions are universal. Of course, smiles and laughter always go a long way and they were both easy to come by at this house.

I really enjoyed our first Karneval season! We made new friends and saw lots of interesting things. It was thrilling to see everyone dressed in costumes and hear them singing along to Karneval songs. 

Now that I've been initiated, it's time to take things a step further. Next year I will definitely be in costume and perhaps even find my way into a parade!

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