“Helau” and “Alaaf” – Carnival in Rhineland

Last week “Fasnacht” in Berne took place. At first I thought it resembled Carnival and prepared myself for the worst, but it was different. But instead, it was more joyful and quieter than I would have ever imagined. You might wonder why the image in my mind was that negative. It’s because I saw Carnival in Rhineland and was quite shocked by human behaviour.

When I entered the city at the very first day of Düsseldorf Street-Carnival last year it looked like hell had been set loose. Drunk people in messed-up costumes staggering around the old town, empty bottles as well as passed out drunkards lying on the floor. In short: noise and chaos everywhere. The atmosphere was neither festive nor relaxed, but had a sense of alcohol induced tension. Honestly speaking, I was shocked and disappointed at the same time. Since I am not originally from that part of Germany I only knew this Carnival by hearsay. Thus, I imagined Carnival in Rhineland as being a nice celebration with many people participating in it who dress up in homemade costumes. And I only imagined a few people getting dead drunk. But instead I just witnessed the complete opposite. It looked as if the whole city decided to get together at broad daylight in order to compare who can drink the most (dressed in random skimpy costumes).

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via Flickr

You have to know that Carnival in Rhineland is quite as popular in Germany as the Oktoberfest in Munich. It is a tradition in which locals are taking a pride in. It originally was supposed to be a celebration mainly linked to religious beliefs. People would revel a few weeks before the fasting period which was meant to be a quieter time that went along with a reduction of certain food and a focus on religion itself.

But why do I tell you this? Because unfortunately, the old tradition of Carnival is nowadays linked to this extreme consumption of alcohol. Don’t get me wrong: I am not religious and I don’t want to forbid anybody to celebrate (because I do it myself). I just think that Carnival went from a celebration with a certain background to an opportunity to consume a legal drug in massive amounts because it is being accepted in our society. Everybody is just drinking to get drunk. During the festive days of Carnival it seems like Rhineland stopped working. At “Weiberfastnacht” nearly all shops and offices are closing early because the employees celebrate (many even start drinking at work).

In Carnival you can observe all stages of intoxication on all age groups and there are always some people getting violent or destructive. In order to lower the human and material damage there is an increased number of ambulances and doctors positioned in the city to treat people with alcohol-poisoning or injuries. There is also an increased number of policemen around who take care of disputes. There is also a ban of glass bottles in the old town. You can tell by this arrangements that the city is aware of the problem but is not able to control it (or maybe doesn’t want to do).

Especially when I compared the the festivities in Berne to those in Düsseldorf I realized how different Carnival can turn out to be. I was quite surprised to see almost nobody drunk during Fasnacht (since I only know it that way). They can celebrate sober, so why is it not possible for Germans to control themselves a little in terms of alcohol? I think it is linked deep within society that people conceive it as a necessity to drink huge amounts of alcohol to have a “good” celebration. It is sad to admit that it seems like every celebration is turning into a huge drinking-game (regardless of its background and original meaning).

I am aware of the fact that Fasnacht in Berne originated in the 80s whereas the Rhinelandic tradition traces back hundrets of years but nevertheless this does not change my view on it. Even invented festivities could lead up to massive intoxications but it didn’t. Why is it even tradition to drink?

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