Showing posts with label Rosenmontag. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Rosenmontag. Show all posts

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Well, if you're going to be a fool, at least be a colorful one! Going back to Narrenfest 2009 in Bad Cannstatt

Festival of Fools

Narrenfest, Bad Cannstatt, Germany, January 2009

One of my favorite memories of living in Bad Cannstatt came about on a sunny Sunday morning a few years ago, which turned into a chilly afternoon surrounded by a bunch, no - a mob, of fools. And I mean legitimate fools. It was Narrenfest - a festival of fools who spent part of the year practicing to be fools, and being proud of being fools in a celebration of fools which has lasted for hundreds of years! All sounds a tad foolish, doesn't it? 

I had started out on a late morning stroll down from above the vineyards where I was living at the time. It was a January morning and I noticed that people were starting to line the streets leading to the Old Town. I figured I would just stand there with them until whatever it was that was going to pass by made its way by me for my inspection. I had no idea what to expect, but as I usually never go out without a camera or smartphone, I was ready.

Twins separated at birth
I was first in line on the street. I stood my ground for what turned out to be the most exciting parade filled with the largest assortment of masks and ancient costumes I had ever seen anywhere in the world - and I have been in many countries on several continents. More than a dozen different countries were participating in this time-honored event and it was a photographer's paradise. I ended up being swept along with it right into the middle of the Old Town until I was standing directly in front of the former Bad Cannstatt Rathaus with thousands of other people who had come from many parts of Europe to take part or watch. I was there for hours just clicking away, praying the batteries would hold out on my camera. 480 shots later, well, I guess they did their part.

Narrenfest is nothing new. The celebration, or festival thereof, has been going on forever in these parts. And it has always involved    COLOR!

Now have a look at these young lovelies. Tell me these aren't the dreams of all bachelor party celebrations, no? They would certainly be at the top of my list for entertainment! (Certainly brides would prefer these ladies to be the ones poppin' out of the bachelor's cake, right?)


I cannot swear that behind these masks there are no women at all today; however, I do in fact know that the  medieval Zunft, or guild, to witch these whiches (or vice-versa) belong was  originally only men. After all, this dates in one form or another all the way back to Heaven knows when: medieval times or even the Dark Ages? But, clearly there are women participating in other costumes as they twirl, jump, hop, and wind their way in the long parade through the streets. Be advised: this particular international event does not take place every year. On this special occasion involved guilds and participants from many different countries. The United States even had a small contingent! The Fest of Fools does in fact take place each year in communities all over central Europe, but these usually include the local townsfolk. I happened upon this international festival by luck, and I guess it was double luck that it was also in my town of Bad Cannstatt.

For anyone interested in the history of festivals and pagan holidays, this is most certainly one to research. The best way to do so is to simply come here to  experience it. An expensive way, for sure, but definitely worth it. Of course, one of the most famous of all such events is in the town of Rotweil (that's right, home of the famous dog), a beautifully medieval town which lies south of Stuttgart in the Lower Black Forest region of Württemberg. Their traditional event is especially known for being most accurate as regards following the traditions of the parade are concerned, but one must get up early in the morning to participate in this fantastic, annual event. 

Some of the massive costumes, besides being very warm, if not hot, for the wearers, can be most frightening, not only to children, but also to some more mature guests. I think I may have annoyed some of them by my constant grin from ear to ear as they passed by. I was in history heaven!


As mentioned earlier, people came from all sorts of countries. Some of the bore their flags as they paraded, such as this pointed-nose group from Belgium on the right.

Slovenia was sighted as well at the Narrenfest. The young couple below were a part of that group.

The almost buffalo-like, long-haired "fools" from Eastern Europe were also particularly interesting for the crowd, as they twirled and danced with their massive, heavy head pieces. The masks themselves were of large pieces of wood, and as seen below, they begin at young ages. Not only the weight of the headdresses, but also the heavy bells tied to ropes around their waists. Their constant swinging and spinning made a cacophony of dull, tinny clangs that no one could miss, like a stampede of Swiss cows running to the barn for feeding time. Every few minutes, these participants had to remove their "heads" in order to down half a bottle of water or so. 

The masks were so heavy on these guys, they had to hold them in place to be able to see properly through them. The ram horns adorning these headdresses were real. (Ouch!)


Well, as mentioned above, color plays a large part at Narrenfest. As your dear writer here is not old enough to recall how it was in the early days of these events back in medieval times, I nonetheless think that the more ancient of these costumes are probably rather authentic; but, at the same time, I guess over the past 500 years even these guilds have made changes themselves, so maybe I had better catch up, too. Let's have a look at some more of the colorful parts of the Narrenfest parade here:

Any idea how much all these bells weigh? Any idea how noisy this parade was,
especially when mixed with all the applause and cheers of the people?

This little marcher (above right) was no more than 13 years old. Each of this group carried a box of chocolates. Your chocoholic writer here followed them for quite a while in hopes that they had a giving spirit. Alas, they didn't. 

But who cares under these circumstances. I mean, look at that color - chocolate or no chocolate! It was a party. The beauty of this is that these happy and colorful events have descended down through the centuries from just after the Dark Ages - and no doubt there were similar festivals during and before! The Church was all-powerful in every aspect of life at this time. The control that it had over citizens throughout Europe was also practiced through the threat of loss of salvation. It was so easy to be labeled a heretic, and this simply wasn't advantageous to one's livelihood, let alone one's life span! This opportunity to dress up and hide behind a mask to basically let loose before the Lenten season was a time to make satire about the religious and secular powers that existed at the time. The Catholic Church was not particularly comfortable with it all, since even priests were known to participate in the revelry. Stories certainly exist of leading members of the hierarchy in Rome warning their celebratory brethren not to be so involved in these events.

It was nearly impossible to catch these Bavarian participants when
they weren't twirling or slapping their thighs and kicking. Hence, blurry shot.

There were a lot of dizzy people at the end of the day.
At least, I thought there would have been.
Heaven knows I sure got dizzy watching!
Each of the mouths on these masks was different, 
but not one of them was sad.

So here you go: more masks and costumes. I cannot leave this page without putting more of these simply astounding masks and costumes on show for your perusal:

Something about these ladies(?) intrigued me.

And man, could they play!

A happy pair of fools

Erecting the festival pole in front of the Rathaus (Town Hall)

I am not sure, but I think these ladies came down from the Black Forest in Baden.

He reminded me of a human "smore"

There are several names for this time of year and the event. Narrenfest is directly related to Mardi Gras in New Orleans and Fasching in the Rhineland of Germany, not to mention other pre-Lenten events. It his traditionally held on Rosenmontag, otherwise known as "Shrovetide", which is before Shrove Tuesday, amongst several other ancient names. This is the Monday directly before Ash Wednesday.