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Carnival tradition in Germany

Today is Rose Monday, one of the most important Carnival days. The best known Carnival cities are Rio de Janeiro (Brazil), Venice (Italy) and Cologne (Germany). The important center of German Carnival is the Rhineland. But also in many other German regions the time before the Christian six-week Lent is celebrated very cheerfully.


Where does this tradition come from? Some people connect the carnival with ancient Mesopotamian, Greek, Egyptian, Roman, Celtic or Germanic feasts. But these were festive days to celebrate gods or the awakening of the nature in spring. What is similar are colorful parades (Rome), showers of roses (Rome), masks (Celts) and the principle of equality (Mesopotamia and Rome). But most researcher doubt in these ancient celebrations being the origin of the Christian carnival. More likely seems the start of it during the emergence of the Christian Lent. Pope Gregory the Great (590–604) decided that fasting would start on Ash Wednesday. The whole carnival event was set before the fasting and there was also the custom that the ruling class would be mocked using masks and disguises. The word „Carnival“ may be composed by the Latin word „carne“ (meat) and „levare“ or „vale“ (good bye).


The worldwide tradition is more common in areas with a large Roman Catholic presence. Carnival typically involves a parade combining some elements of a circus, masks and public street party. People wear masks during many such celebrations, an overturning of life’s normal things. There are different carnival cries in Germany. The most popular one is probably „Hellau“ – its origin is unknown.

By Sebastian Koppehel (Own work) [CC BY 4.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

In many German regions, the Carnival season starts on 11/11 at 11:11 a.m. This dates back to celebrations before the Advent season or with harvest celebrations of St. Martin’s Day.  I remember that date because at primary school in my home village Röderau, we always started a cross-country running at exactly this time. It was obligatory, but at the end of the course each runner got a Berliner Pfannkuchen (similar to a doughnut with no central hole but, with a jam filling) made by the world’s best village bakery 😉 This bakery always made one Pfannkuchen with mustard instead of jam and everybody was half scared (because it was disgusting) and half excited (because it meant luck for one year) who would get the mustard Pfannkuchen.

[[File-Karnevalswagen Kardinal Meisner 2005.jpg|thumb|Karnevalswagen Kardinal Meisner 2005]]

The most active Carnival week begins on the Thursday before Ash Wednesday, with parades during the weekend, and finishes at midnight before Ash Wednesday, with the main festivities occurring around Rose Monday (Rosenmontag). This time is also called the „Fifth Season“. The parades are marked by  floats, walking bands, dancing formations, costumes, masks and showers of sweets and confetti. The floats demonstrate often in a satirical way famous persons and events of the last year.


The „Funkengarde“ plays an important role. It’s a guard of young men wearing uniforms  in eye-catching colors (to be understood as a persiflage). Besides there are dancing female guards of so called „Funkenmariechen“ (Funken Marys). Their typical outfits are composed of tricorn, a short dress in the guard’s or club’s colors, and boots. Guard dance is a special dance style characterized by march dance, ballet elements, varying pictures (diagonals, semicircles, Vs, etc.) and acrobatic (split, cartwheel, etc.). Very important is synchronism and precision.


I come from a protestant German region. Luther’s Reformation put into question the Lent before Eastern. That is why customs related to the Lent – like Carnival – became more and more unimportant in these regions. There were a few Carnival celebrations, but it was smaller and shorter than in Roman Catholic areas. Nevertheless, the TV is broadcasting many many Carnival shows especially from the Rhineland, so the excitement for it grows in the protestant regions, too. I’m sure Carnival will grow in the next 10 years as did Halloween in Germany in the past. And therefore I conclude my post with a threefold Hellau – Hellau – Hellau!


Most pictures: Peter Eichardt | Ascherslebener Carnevalsclub

By Leonard Bentley from Iden, East Sussex, UK (Iden) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

Atmosfair – website for CO₂ offset

Most people travel far to meet other peoples, to immerge into (by them) unknown cultures. Germans are known to be the world’s most frequently travelers, but also many other nations travel a lot and like to see other countries; and most often, we use the plane – with a guilty conscience, because we know about the ecological footprint we leave. We know, we could stay at home because our country has a lot to offer, too, but sometimes we need to get out and see a completely different culture.

What should we know about our trips? Two bathtubs full of kerosine are burnt per passager on a flight from Frankfurt (Germany) to Los Angeles (USA). 10 % of the climate warming caused by humans come from the air traffic. Air traffic is the only human activity that has a direct influence on cloud formations in the upper troposphere. How can we counteract this development when not flying is no option? One answer is the German organisation atmosfair that was founded in 2005. Their guideline says: avoid – reduce – offset. It is a climate protection organisation and specialized on offsetting travels. True to their guiding principle „first avoid – then reduce – and only then offset“, they support innovative projects for alternative products with the goal to avoid and reduce carbon. Besides, they give very interesting information like tips for climate-friendly travel or an overview about the world’s cleanest airlines.


How does it work? On the website of atmosfair you can calculate your flight’s, cruise’s and event’s CO₂ footprint and offset it with a voluntary contribution to the protection of the climate. With the money you will support atmosfair-projects which save this amount of greenhouse gases – it is projects about renewable energy and energy efficiency projects in developing countries. 90 % of atmosfair’s carbon offset projects adhere to the CDM Gold Standard by the United Nations, the strictest standard available for climate protection projects. There are projects for energy-efficient cookstoves, wind power, biogas from cow dung, solar water heaters and much more. You can find a project overview here.


A flight from Berlin to London (round-trip) for example causes an emission of 526 kg of CO₂. Just to compare this number: a refrigerator causes 100 kg CO₂ per year. A flight from Paris to Chicago (round-trip) causes 3,558 kg of CO₂; a car that is used for 35 km per day causes 2,000 kg of CO₂ per year. In order to offset your emission, the website calculates the amount you should donate to an environmental project if you want to offset you emission. For a Berlin-London-round-trip it would be 13 Euro, Paris-Chicago would be 82 Euro. Even though avoiding CO₂ is always the better choice, atmosfair gives us a great opportunity to contribute to our planet when we take a plane despite our bad conscience. Greenpeace, a donator for atmosfair, assesses atmosfair as reputable and says that this organisation would be the only recommendable provider for offsetting travels.

Regenwald Goldmine

As it is often mentioned, offsetting carbon is not a solution for justifying all our travels. Short distances are often very good to reach by train. Or did you ever visit the different cultures around  you? Germans, have you ever been on a feast of the Sorbs? US-Americans and Canadians, have you ever attended a pow-wow? Finns and Swedes, have you ever sit on a fire with a Lapp? Russians, have you ever listened to a lament song sang by a Nenet woman? There is such a rich cultural diversity just on our doorsteps.

atmosfair website:

Mangrove forests

The ecosystem Mangrove is originated by salt tolerant types of trees up to medium height and by shrubs that grow in saline coastal sediment habitats in the tropics and subtropics with a water temperature of about 68°F (20°C). The mangrove forest areas of the world in 2005 was about 58,000 mi² (150,000 km²) spanning 118 countries and territories. Approximately 75% of world’s mangroves are found in just 15 countries. Asia has the largest amount (42%) of the world’s mangroves, followed by Africa (21%), North/Central America (15%), Oceania (12%) and South America (11%). All the pictures you can see in this post were taken on the North coast of the Dominican Republic.


Mangroves are adapted to live in harsh coastal conditions. They contain a complex salt filtration system and complex root system to cope with salt water immersion and wave action. They are adapted to the low oxygen conditions of waterlogged mud.

The term „mangrove“ came from Portuguese through Spanish to English and is likely to originate from the Amerindian language Guaraní. It was earlier „mangrow“ (from Portuguese mangue), but this word was corrupted via folk etymology influence of the word „grove“.

IMG_7653 IMG_7644

Why do I write about mangroves in a blog that is about culture? Because humans depend on mangrove forests and the culture of the people in regions where these forests are native is influenced by this ecosystem. Magrove forests are endangered by shrimp farming (especially in Asia, but also in Latin America), by oil pollution (Panama, Persian Gulf, Niger delta) and by draining of mangrove areas for housing development on the coasts.


Protecting the mangrove ecosystem is not only necessary regarding the climate change. There are much more reasons to preserve it. Mangrove swamps protect coastal areas from erosion, storm surge (especially during hurricanes) and tsunamis. Also, the unique ecosystem found in the intricate mesh of mangrove roots offers a quiet marine region for young organisms. In areas where roots are permanently submerged, the organisms they host include algae, barnacles, oysters, sponges and bryozoans, which all require a hard surface for anchoring while they filter feed. Shrimps and mud lobsters use the muddy bottoms as their home. Mangrove crabs munch on the mangrove leaves, adding nutritients to the mangal muds for other bottom feeders. And what about the people who live on mangrove forest coasts? They use the wood as firewood and for charcoal or tanning agents making. It is also proved that coast fishing decreased dramatically where mangroves were deforested extensively. All that shows that deforesting destroys the traditional way of life of many local people.

Efforts to restore the mangroves are made for example in Vietnam, Thailand, India, Sri Lanka and the Philippines. Despite these efforts the destruction of mangroves continues in many regions.


Munich – New Town Hall and Maypole

Munich (German: München) is the capital of the German region Bavaria (Bayern). With 1,5 million inhabitants, Munich is the 3rd biggest city of Germany (after Berlin and Hamburg). Munich is known especially for its famous Oktoberfest. Two other emblems are the New Town Hall and the Maypole at the Viktualienmarkt.

New Town Hall Munich 2

The New Town Hall of Munich is domicile of the municipality of the city since 1874. Georg von Hauberrisser built it from 1867 to 1908 in a Gothic Revival architecture style. The main facade is richly decorated with frescos of saints and folklike figures. The main tower has a height of 85 m and is available for visitors with an elevator. On the top thrones the Münchner Kindl, Munich’s emblem. The carillon of the tower is the fifth-largest in Europe. An apparatus can perform 4 different melodies with 43 bells.

May Pole Munich

The Maypole is the center of the Viktualienmarkt, a permanent grocery market in the Old Town of Munich. The origin of erecting a maypole (Maibaum) mostly on May 1 is a tradition in some Germanophone regions and goes back to the 16th century. In Bavaria, the pole is usually painted in the Bavarian colours of white and blue and decorated with emblems depicting local crafts and industry. The maypole of the Viktualienmarkt is sponsored by the Association of Munich’s Breweries.


German food tradition on New Year’s Eve

„What will your family eat on Christmas?“ is an often asked question in decembers. But what do people eat on New Year’s Eve? My family would answer the same as many other Germans, too: carp.

The tradition of eating carp on Christmas or New Year’s Eve is very common in many parts of Germany as same as in Bohemia (Czech Republic) and Austria. But why having carp on New Year’s Eve? The answer is simple: the popular belief is that a carp scale or a chondral-like part of the fishbone would bring luck and money in the new year when you put it in your wallet.


Carp breeding is very common in Germany, Poland, Bohemia, Austria, Slovenia, Croatia,  Hungary and many Asian regions. In Germany, we buy the carp directly from the breeder. When the carp was bred in a muddy lake like in the lake of Moritzburg Castle, people keep the carp alive for a couple of days before slaughtering it. They put the living carp in a tub with fresh and clean water, so the carp cleans its gills from mud and other substances that would make the fish tasting earthy and strawy. These days of waiting give kids the opportunity to observe and fondle the fish… When you buy carp from clean lakes, like a gravel pit, it can be slaughtered directly by the breeder.


There are different ways of preparing carp. My family puts the whole fish with vegetables in the oven. It’s delicious.