Europe's Famous Carnivals.


The carnival of Rio de Janeiro is famous in the Americas, but in Europe those of Cologne, Munich, Venice, and to some extent that of Basel in Switzerland enjoy more popularity.

Carnival in those cities and in smaller ones is a “crazy” time. People in costumes go to balls, drink a lot, sometimes to excess, and watch colourful and well organized parades.

The weather in February and March happens to be chilly, if not downright cold, and accordingly, parade participants dress warmly unlike in Rio, New Orleans or Port of Spain, Trinidad and Tobago where they are scantly dressed to suit their climate.

The carnival of Venice starts 40 days before Easter and ends on Shrove Tuesday (Martedi Grasso). It is distinct because of its leather or cloth masks (now more plastic and modern materials are used) that are designed by specialists. There are full-, and part facemasks or costumes. Designers formed a guild, and established their own statute on April 10, 1436 and still today adhere to its rules and regulations. Venetian designers look at life as theatre and imagine everyone “masked”.

Masks and costumes are judged in a specially organized event by a panel of artists, and mask designers.

In 2011 the winner was a Belgian, in 2010 a Briton, and in 2009 a German.

Approximately three million tourists visit Venice daily during the last days of carnival festivities.

Costumed participants are picked up by gondoliers and whisked on canals to balls organized by a number of specially created groups.

Further north in Munich, Germany, carnival is called Fasching. It was, up to 1829, an open-air festival, and the first Fasching ball took place ten years later.

Now the Narrenhalle (The Council of Fools) is the official organizing committee that decides the parade route, ball locations, and other events as might be expected in an “orderly society” like Germans.

At midnight on the last of Fasching, the female vendors of Viktualienmarkt (in city centre) start dancing in their costumes with great pomp and circumstance.

The fun loving population of Munich enjoys beer and lots of it. Beer halls do a thriving business during the last days of Fasching.

Further west and south in Basel, Switzerland, the burghers celebrate carnival differently. First, they start one week after Ash Wednesday, and the main event lasts exactly 72 hours, starting with a spectacular parade in total darkness at 4 a.m. The only light allowed is by means of torches. Drummers and percussionists walk through the city noisily, and get served Baseler mehlsuppe (Basel-style flour soup, and onion pizza for sustenance. The event attracts the burghers of Basel and those from nearby German villages.

The carnival in Cologne in northwestern Germany has been celebrated since time immemorial, and in a haphazard fashion until Prussians took Cologne in 1814, and decided all events to be organized and executed in an orderly fashion. Organized carnival festivities started in 1823. The committee is responsible for all official events, and other details.

The Kolsch (as the citizens of Cologne pronounce it) carnival starts on the 11th day of the 11th month of the year, at 11 minutes past 11 o’clock. The 100 Karnevallgesellschaften (comparable to krewes in New Orleans) or vice versa) organize, design, produce floats, and participate in parades.

Of all German carnivals the one in Koln (as Germans call Cologne) is the craziest and most fun, with unending balls, drinking, street dancing and a lot of fun.

From time to time gays disguise as women and dance the night away, occasionally seducing a partner to have sex. In rare cases when the man discovers that he was duped, the costumed is killed!

Hrayr Writer – Hrayr Berberoglu – E-mail – Read his books?
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