Carnival: All Germany, a fancy dress party? Or why you should postpone your meeting. Carnival along the Rhine, from Basel to Krefeld, in Munich and other areas, along with Venice, Rio de Janeiro, New Orleans

A blog about German customs in companies and society has also to talk about the 3 C’s: (catholic) church, culture and carnival!

Today’s topic is Carnival or Karneval.

Buntes Treiben an Karneval – Colourful hustle and bustle at Carnival

Every year and 40 days before Easter, the foremost catholic areas in Germany revive a rather pagan tradition of casting out the winter. Fancy dress parties over 6 days dominate the streets, pubs and even the offices. In all Germany? Not quite, but watching TV – e.g. WDR & SWR (ARD) &  RTL/VOX, which have their headquarters in the Rhine metropolis Cologne & Mainz – in those days one could imagine so.

Carnival has its tradition mostly along the Rhine, from Basel in the South up to Krefeld in the North and also to some extent in Münster and Munich and many smaller towns and villages. When the capital was moved back from Bonn to Berlin, there were even some attempts by MPs and staff members  to transfer the carnival traditions too, but Berlin mostly resisted the imported sense of humour, so only a few might still hold up those traditions – or simply take annual leave to flee into the regions where they can have the full experience.

Carnival is all about satirical humour about politics, MPs & the chancellor, themes of social interest, the opposite sex, other carnival locations, the boss, and whatever issues one might have, but it is also about (harmless?) flirts, dressing up and some good old fun. So why do offices take part in these customs?

In the capitals of carnival, Cologne, Bonn, Düsseldorf & Mainz it is nearly expected to take part in the traditions. On a Thursday 46 days before Easter, at exactly 11:11 o’clock (am), women everywhere are armed with scissors, the women who couldn’t leave their workplace anyway. Not to do any harm to their (male) colleagues, of course, but to cut of the utter sign of power and maledom, the tie! Man is wise, if he wears a tie of minor importance (or one he always disliked) or no tie at all. That Thursday is all about empowering the women, of being brave (hence the fancy dresses), about forgetting obedience (against their husbands, superiors, etc.), but in a charming way. In Bonn and Düsseldorf for example the Carnival-Princesses take over the town halls and snap away the symbolic key to the town from the mostly male mayors. Should their be a woman the mayor, she still might have to fight a lot against her male colleagues and to show them who really rules them (on that particular day), she helps the Princesses to take the key and to throw out all the male-icious rulers of the town. This tradition has started long time before feminism became the norm in the last century. Some of those traditions reach back to the middle ages, with dressed up nuns dancing and playing cards till late nights or the guild of washerwomen in Bonn-Beuel with their elected princess, who fight against moodiness and grumpiness and for more fun.

Cologne, the town I used to live in, has its very own traditions. Aside from the pagan and middle age traditions, there are also some traditions reaching back to the times when Prussia and France were fighting over the Rhine area, when Protestants were living at one side of the river and Catholics at the other. Cologne was always a town of free spirits with a  (more or less) strong economy, a lot business and a strategic point at the river for transporting goods from south to north and vice versa. Founded as a garrison town for the Romans, it has grown over the centuries and with its guild and the strong arm of the Catholic church, it has become quite powerful too. When the two armies were fighting each other over Cologne, it left its marks in Cologne.
The French brought the liberal Code Civil, house numbers (most famous example: 4711, an Eau de Cologne, “Water of Cologne”, now a generic expression for all sorts of scented “waters” but could also refer to the river “Father” Rhine and/or the special kind of beer: Kölsch) and appropriate lighting.
The Prussian brought militarism and prudishness.
Both brought order and uniforms, and since the late 1900s these are found as mockups in the various carnival troops of Cologne.

What does this all mean for business?
Well, should you plan having a meeting at that time of the year, be aware that your business partners might have fled the area or are taking part in the frolics. Therefore, you might want to postpone any meeting until after “Aschermittwoch” / Ash Wednesday.

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