Karneval 2012: Frankfurt

The Scene:

The streets of Frankfurt, Germany, around 1:00 pm on a snowy Sunday. The streets are lined with  bystanders watching colorful parade floats and marching bands.

The Cast: 

Exuberant, enthusiastic children dressed in costumes, watched over by equally exuberant adults.

You.

Supporting Cast:

Alcohol.

Begin Scene:

You chanced upon this parade after lunch, as you wandered in the city. Drawn in by the shouts and colorful costumes, you find a relatively open spot along the street and nudge your way to the front. “Ah,” you realize with a sudden excitement, “this is the Karneval parade!”

Passing by is a marching band made up of musicians wearing what can best be called caricatured paper mache masks. You notice their band name: Gaschtro-Noome, and make the association that it sounds a bit like the German word “gastronomie,” meaning “restaurant,” or, more obviously, “gastronomy.”

As you wonder what that has to do with a marching band, you spot a group of Smurfs heading down the street.

Suddenly, as you’re wondering why the Smurfs faces aren’t painted blue, plunk! You feel something hard hit your head. Plunk, plunk, plunk! A shower of bonbons (hard candy) shoot from the hand of a parade participant.

Suddenly, like little mice after pieces of cheese, the costumed children around you squeal and scamper to pick up every last piece. You watch with amusement, remembering the days when you used to do that as a child. Although, you have to admit, you were all about the “good candy,” leaving behind the undesirable pieces, like those pink hard candies with the gooey insides that were wrapped up to look like a strawberry, or the icy blue hard candies that always seemed to partner with the gold, butterscotch flavored ones. You never did figure out what flavor those blue ones were.

This idyllic scene is interrupted when your ear is pierced by the air-horn-like shout of the man next to you (who you have been trying to keep from invading your personal space),

Helau! HELAU!”

(You find out later that they’re not really saying “hello” with a weird accent, as it sounds, but they’re really chanting a typical Karneval greeting.) You firmly believe that this man thinks that the louder he shouts, the more candy will be thrown.

Each time The Shouter sees a parade participant carrying a bag that even remotely looks like it might have candy in it, he shouts again. “HELAU! HELAU!

You continue to be pelted by the bonbons, but every once in a while, a bag of popcorn (only kettle-corn…the concept of regular buttered popcorn has not yet reached Germany) or a small waffle wrapped in plastic is thrown your way. These are eagerly snapped up by the children.

Next, you spot this:

A “Baby Pirat.” You find this absolutely adorable at the time, but fast forward an hour later, when approximately 1,000 pirate-costumed participants have passed. Apparently the #2 costume for Karneval 2012 was “pirate.”

Plink, plunk, plop! Another shower of candy. You’re still watching the marching bands and floats go by when you feel a slight nudge from the side. You turn to acknowledge it and see a woman in her 60s bending over and picking up the bonbons that were left behind by the children. As she gleefully shouts about her treasures, you discover that she’s in the same group as The Shouter. Figures. You can only hope that she’s saving that for her Enkelkinder (grandchildren).

It’s a bit unsettling as she weaves around you, picking up every. single. last. piece. To each her own.

You notice a man rolling what looks like an old-fashioned baby-buggy fit for a baby elephant. He’s calling out what he’s selling, but you can only tell what it is when he lifts up the cover of the baby-buggy to reveal mounds of fresh Brezeln (pretzels). You remember you just had lunch, so it’s better that he didn’t come down your side anyway.

As the parade draws to a close, you look down again and see the sure signs of Karneval: colorful paper confetti swimming with crisply wrapped bonbons.

“HELAU!”

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