Friday, November 11, 2005

Remembrance or Mardi Gras?

I was in Germany a year ago today and I had a very odd experience. I was walking through Stralsund with my girlfriend’s family at 11am on the 11th November feeling very odd due to the significance of the time and date. In the UK this is Remembrance Day, the day when we remember the people who died during the First World War and the day when the armistice was signed. It is a very solemn day that makes you dwell on the futility, brutality, and loss of war. So, being in Germany on this day made me feel a bit strange and a bit uncertain whether I should enquire of my girlfriend’s family whether they knew of the day’s significance. However, as 11am came round the streets were suddenly filled with kids wearing streamers and party hats and blowing on party blowers and horns. As we walked towards the town hall we saw that there was some kind of party going on inside. We walked into the Town Hall and found loud German Techno booming from one of the ornate meeting rooms, a table set full of Sekt (German sparkling wine), and people handing out Berliners (donuts). A party was in full swing in Germany whilst at home people would be mourning the death of thousands of soldiers.

The party, I was later informed by my girlfriend was to celebrate the start of Fasching, the Mardi Gras or Carnival. For some reason, traditional preparation for Fasching begins on the 11th November and it is celebrated by storming the Town Hall. Fasching is a big deal in the Catholic south of Germany but the whole of Germany likes a good party so the idea seems to have spread north. The precise match of the beginning of Fasching with the signing of the WWI armistice was too startling a coincidence to be accidental. It must have been chosen to emphasise the importance of the occasion (11am 11th day, 11th month is very easy to remember) yet in Germany nobody remembered the significance of the day. Other than the fact that you get to drink wine and eat donuts at 11am. Another interesting example of how a shared history isn’t always the same history.

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