February 13, 2013

Our first Rosenmontag parade in 2011

Last time we took part in the Rosenmontag festivities in Mainz, we had a lovely perch on a friend's rooftop deck directly over the parade route, not to mention being nearly a month later than it was this year, it was amazingly warm and sunny. This year, we headed across the river to brave the crowds on the ground in the freezing February weather for the first time. Since we had previously donned the giraffes only in apartments and on brief train rides, we had yet to experience any reaction to these costumes beyond our circle of friends.

Riding the buses and trains in Wiesbaden on Rosenmontag is always interesting, since the festivities are in Mainz, because those in costume are few and far between. Those that are usually only have a sparkly hat or colorful outfit, perhaps in an effort to avoid the abundant and somewhat judge-y German stares from what is often considered the 'uptight' side of the river. Sometimes I just want to scream at them "yes, I know it's Monday morning and you're dressed in your work clothes and I'm dressed as a safari animal but I'm going to party at the Rosenmontag parade, so back off!" Once over in Mainz, the the German stares dissipate and are replaced with smiles, waves, and once everyone is drunk enough to lose their German inhibitions, even hugs.

We might not have been the only giraffes, but we seemed to be the most popular

Once deep into the festivities, we started to see how popular our costumes were. At first, I would just catch someone pausing with a camera pointed in our direction, but once the first person came up and asked if they could take our picture - or the ones I most enjoyed, where they wanted their photo with us - it was like it opened the floodgates for all the other Germans too reserved to ask. I started to feel like a Disneyland character, posing for photos every time we turned around, and wondered if kids would start asking for autographs soon. I'm pretty sure our photo is going to be spattered all over the internet in connection with this year's parade. It seems we could hardly go a block without someone calling out for us "giraffe! giraffen!", or just overhearing someone pointing us out to a friend after we had gone past. One lone giraffe actually called out "Mama! Papa!" to us. Amidst a sea of Germans, with whom we rarely feel a sense of belonging, we felt as if we had hundreds of new, accepting friends.

It wasn't just the fellow costumed adults that took a shine to the giraffes. One old lady stopped us to ask for a photo and said we were her favorite costume that she had seen. Little kids often stared after their parents pointed us out, only to break their intense German stare once we smiled and waved, letting them know that we were friendly animals. One such very small guy in the cutest lion costume, stared at us for a good five minutes on the train platform, even after I'd smiled and waved. He just didn't know what to make of us. Finally, something in him let go, because he pulled the little lion-clawed arms of his suit down over his hands, curled them up, scrunched up his face and started growling at us. Perhaps he had figured out that as a lion, he was at the top of the animal kingdom, or perhaps he just wanted my giant cotton candy.

How these guys didn't freeze their, well.. important parts off, I'll never know!

Being on the ground this year meant being right in the middle of all the action. We could stand parade side and reach out for all the treats that were being thrown from the floats into the crowd. It also meant that in -1C weather, we were freezing our giraffe tails off. The music at least made it acceptable to bounce and jump around to keep warm, but even under four layers on top, two layers on bottom, snow boots, hat and gloves, I was so numb I could barely move. This meant that when the circus float with a giant giraffe on the top rolled by and the woman in front noticed me and chucked a giant candy bar/roll of cookies right to me, my popsicle of a hand could only reach into the air, to which the treat meant for me bounced off my numb, unclosing fingers and into the crowd for someone else to claim. What a sad Karneval failure.

Being on the ground this year meant more than frozen toes and being at the mercy of increasingly drunken people who wanted to manhandle our giraffe heads, it also meant we could take part in gathering loads of goodies thrown from the floats. As stated previously, I did not contribute greatly to our haul with my slow-moving, frozen limbs, but we came away pretty good nonetheless. And I didn't even have to show my boobs like they do in New Orleans.

The highlight of the parade are the humorous political floats. Not entirely up to speed on all things going on over here, some of it can be a bit beyond my breadth of German political knowledge, but I saw enough that gave me a good chuckle. My favorites included the one poking fun at the ever-extending deadline for the new Berlin airport opening and the one about greedy America and who is really pumping up that economy. Germans making fun of what could be potentially sensitive topics to this level never ceases to surprise me. For a culture often labeled as having little to no sense of humor, I think they hit the nail on the head with these floats, whereas I could see such political humor upsetting a lot of Americans. Jon Stewart aside, politics in America seems to be such a hot button topic and is often avoided to keep the peace. Well it's good to know Germans have a sense of humor about their politics, although only at the appropriate time and place, of course. 

Wait for it...

The rest of the floats and paraders were often just as impressive, but after an hour or so, the growing rowdiness of the crowd and our already full bag of treats - not to mention my numb feet and hands that were beginning to expand to the rest of my body - signaled that maybe it was time to head out. We made our way slowly through more hugging and photo-taking to what we hoped would be a warm stop for some food at our favorite Mexican restaurant - only to discover that they are not in fact open every day, all day. So we dragged our freezing giraffe butts back to the trail station, picking up a warm crepe and Glühwein on the way and awaited our ride home. As cold as it was, we were thankful that the grey skies that day were not filled with the sleet of the week before, but rather the confetti from all the festivities. Karneval, we may have to come back to celebrate again with you next year! 

Kind of wished they had been throwing fresh pretzels

Daily Drop Cap by Jessica Hische