Carnival and the Olympics
(why does this feel like a Star Trek episode?)
February 2002

Ich spreche leider nur ein klein wenig Deutsche.
I'm afraid I speak only a little German.

Kendra asked what a typical weekend for me was like here; here's a typical weekend in February:

Ich werde ganz nervös, wenn ich Deutsch spreche.
I get nervous when I speak German.

The second week of February was carnival (pronounced "carnaval" here). Neither Manuel nor Georg wore ties (the latter never does) on the Thursday that kicks things off, and they were wearing loafers as well, so the marauding German women dressed as clowns at work could not cut their ties nor their shoelaces. The women decided to cut Joseph's shoelaces instead, then kissed him and ran out. Yes, all of this right in the middle of a very intense staff meeting. Later that night, the company that runs our canteen had a carnival party. A lot of people started drinking at around 3 in the afternoon. I, ofcourse, had to WORK up until just after 6. The festivities were already in full swing when I arrived. My neighbor Barb was there (she's friends with an American that also works where I do) so I got to introduce her to some of my co-workers. We had a blast. The entertainment was uber silly: children dressed as Prussian soldiers dancing, and men-in-drag dancers, and co-workers in all sorts of costumes... but it was also a lot of fun. Wunderbar.

On Friday, I got home very late; Stefan was already here when I arrived. We hung out at home, ordered food in, watched "Best in Show" (I've watched it three times now) and he configured my VCR to record the opening ceremony of the Olympics (which began at 2 a.m. my time). Saturday morning, after we walked the dogs, I just couldn't wait to get started watching the ceremony, so I said, "let's just watch a few minutes and then go to the grocery." More than an hour later, we finally turned the TV off and went to the grocery...

I thought the opening ceremony was WONDERFUL, almost as good as Barcelona. I had to offer a review of EVERY outfit, ofcourse. #1 was early on, from Bulgaria, I think -- they had on these gorgeous long black coats and berets. It was stylin'. The French and the Germans looked fab as well. The guy in the Bermuda shorts, carrying his country's flag, sent us into hysterics. And it just breaks my heart when you see those countries with less than 10 people representing them. Those costumes during the opening show were killer -- WOW. All those huge white flowing animals and the trees and all that. Amazing. We were both really moved by the Indians and their ceremonies. I was soooo happy over Robbie Robertson (I just adore him -- he's speaking at SXSW this year; I could just die over missing that), and then the Dixie Chicks! I played their CD later for Stefan and -- he liked them! I thought Sting and Yo Yo Ma were boring, and I fast forwarded through the ice show by the former athletes that followed the American pioneers bit, and through Lee Ann Rimes (yawn, yawn, yawn). The ceremonies were in German, but I could hear the English underneath. And, best of all, THERE ARE NO COMMERCIALS AT ALL. As it should be. It made it so much more respectful.

Mom always made such a big deal about the Olympics, and I usually have too, especially in college and living in California with butt head. And Utah is one of my very favorite favorite favorite states to drive through, camp in, whatever. It felt so good to watch this -- and it was been great watching the games that followed... even though Germany kicked everyone's collective butts (grin).

Können Sie langsamer sprechen?
Can you speak more slowly?

February was also fantastic-international-food month for me. Okay, that's kinda every month... A Turkish co-worker cooked a big dinner for a bunch of us and, girl, let me tell you, I could have just pulled up a chair to the buffet and eaten right out of the serving bowls. I had to stop myself from eating every one of these kind of thin, long bread rolls stuffed with some kind of white cheese... DANG. Then a mysterious stranger did a belly dance. I'm serious. At one point, I was sitting with Brona's boyfriend, Ali, from Iran, and he picks up one of Gizem's glamour mags (I think it was "Elle"), and the cover says, "Why men pay for sex." And he says, trying to look serious, "Jayne, I think we need to read this and discover the root of this awful trend." Maybe it was just the way he said it or the shot of Turkish 45% alcohol white lightening I'd had, but I thought it was hilarious.

Stefan and I stumbled home late, and weren't in bed until after 1 a.m., which is REALLY late for me any more. We got up at 9:30 a.m. the next day and rushed to eat a little breakfast, walk the dogs, and load up in the car to head for Westerwald. We needed to be at the parade spot in Stefan's home town absolutely no later than 13:00, and when you factor in an hour's drive, lunch and everything else, that's really not that much time. But we made it!

I am so glad I have seen a small Rheinland village go absolutely off its rocker for this once-a-year craziness. All the festiveness with very little of the ugliness as, say, the infield at the Kentucky Derby (don't ever do that -- it's the stands or nothing). Ever so politically incorrect and, yet, never really out-and-out mean or nasty. We stood with friends of Stefan's, the same friends he stands with every year, in the same spot that they stand in every year for the parade in Höhr-Grenzhausen; carnival is about tradition as much as it's about having a fun time. Everyone was in a happy mood. The passing floats and bands and groups dressed in some kind of theme throw popcorn balls and candy bars to the crowds along the way, and hand out full cans of beer and pour liquor into your cup (if you have one). Even the band members carry their own drinks. Some of the floats are absolutely amazing. But most are simple and somehow clever. The parade group members yell "Hellooooooo!" and you yell it back.

After the last float went by, we walked through the city streets to another part of town and watched about half of the parade all over again. Then we headed to Stefan's firehouse for a party in the building's lounge. We had a look at the antique fire engine his firehouse just acquired -- it's from 1942, and it is just lovely, all wooden seats inside, and such a simple, clean engine. The lounge is downstairs, and on the archway above the entrance are the English words "Good Stuff," which, in the dialect of Stefan's hometown, means "living room" or "parlour." The lounge feels like a really small neighborhood pub, actually -- it's a great place for the firefighters to unwind after a fire or training. And that Sunday, it was a great place to party. Everyone was very sweet. One of the firefighters had even been to Kentucky recently, to Mammoth Cave! Stefan said that, even had I understood German, I would have not understood a word being said, because of the thick dialect of the region. Kinda like Kentucky...

Wo ist das Badezimmer?
Where is the bathroom?

We stayed there until nightfall, then headed to a bar where Stefan and his firefighter friends party every year. Usually it's a quiet restaurant frequented by older people; this night, it was a rockin' party place decorated with Spanish flags (the theme was "Mallorca", which is a German colony off the coast of Spain) and packed with vocal, emotional Germans (yes, I said that) singing along to most every song. Amid the Carnival songs, which range in topics from the red light district of Hamburg to a rubber raft, they played "YMCA." Everyone was singing along to the chorus, but no one was doing the arm movements. Ofcourse, by the end of the song, they were. I consider it my cultural contribution to Deutschland.

See some of the photos I took during carnival.

Wie lange bleibst du hier?
How long are you staying here?

I'm sorry to say that I ended Stefan's evening earlier than he planned. After midnight, I hit a wall -- I was exhausted. It was the second night of carnaval partying, and my body was rebelling. It sucks getting old. I'm really glad I took a holiday at work that next day.

The month ended with another fun weekend in Westerwald, although not nearly as wild. Stefan's friend and fellow firefighter, Guido, had a party for his birthday. We walked to Guido's house at night for the party, through crusty frozen snow, some woods, and past a lovely, expensive hotel. We were at Guido's for about 45 minutes and then Guido and Stefan's firefighter beepers went off. So, off they went. I actually didn't panic. I just thought, oh well, I guess I'm going to learn a lot of German this evening. It turned out the woman across from me, Eva, actually spoke decent English. Well, I thought it was decent; Stefan says I'm a very understanding listener. Guido's step father also spoke English; he had spent two years in the U.S. back in the 60s in the German army, training with the U.S. army. He was stationed in Pennsylvania, Kansas and Alabama. He saw the real USA, most definitely, and he really misses it. He was telling me about the time he and two G.I.s spent three nights in a Mexican jail. Then he proudly showed me pictures of a wild boar and a wild ram he killed on hunting trips. Change the accent, and we could have been in Henderson. He was a character and a half. He fell asleep at the table later and started snoring.

Sie werden durch Ihre Fehler nur lernen.
By making mistakes, you will learn.

Stefan and Guido got back in about an hour. There was a wreck on the highway, and they were called because supposedly one person couldn't get out of the car, but when they got there, everyone was out.

Oh -- Carmen sent me some tapes, and I subjected Stefan to parts of the U of KY/ U of L game that she taped for me. I was very calm. He did not get a true sense of my awful behavior while watching games. Even though Kentucky won, I thought the team looked awful. They just do not GEL. March is going to be a hard month...

And now I'll end with these -- all sorts of web cams and info about where I live that I just recently found:

Gute Nacht.

More soon...

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