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Satire in German Carnival—We cannot be silent

Published: 
Monday, February 9, 2015
Carnival 2015
Dancing frogs in formation. IMAGES COURTESY: JUERGEN KOCH

Germany has a long tradition of sarcasm and humorous elements in its carnival. Luckily it was kept that way with exception of the time throughout the dictatorship of the Third Reich. During the occupation of the French in Mainz in the early 19th century the carnivalists mocked the French troops by wearing the tricolor blue, white and red ridiculing the upper class in song and verse. The yellow colour was then added to the satisfaction of the French occupiers. Today the tricolor plus yellow still play a significant role in Mainz Carnival.

German Carnival is not only an outlet for political commentary, mismanagement and criticism but also a time of enjoyment and to chase the winter blues. Whether in rhyme or as caricatures on floats sacral or satanic the organisers go as far as they can go with their parody. 

There was no stopping of the Mainz Carnival Club (MCC) performances in spite of the latest attack in Paris on January 7. 

The MCC hosted its annual show with a 2,000 audience. MCC president Guido Seitz opened the show with the words “Nous sommes Charlie (We are Charlie).”

From dancing frogs, Chinese geishas, singing jesters and a good portion of satire there was literally nothing missing. 

With a lantern in one hand and a scroll in the other the night custodian personified the carnival spirit seeking justice and truth and observing night life in the city. His presentation is as traditional as carnival itself.

Satirical verses were performed by amateur artists’ dash slapping politics, religions, media and other controversial themes including ethnic prejudice. Even the newly-formed Pegida Movement also got a taste of sarcasm.

A similarity can be made to calypso in Trinidad. Lyrics and harmonic vocals from calypsonians express political wrongdoings, sex, scandal, gossip and insulting each other on stage. 

Punning on words and slamming out on celebrities both local and foreign. 

Even in the 1930s Hitler got his share of irony for the annexation of Poland, like motherland England for its colonial policy.

Maybe like Mainz the French had its big say in the West Indies. The African influence added that something special to Trinidad Carnival and calypso. Calypso is still the voice of the people and a document of history.

After the massacre of journalists on January 7 in Paris, organisers are still thinking what it could mean for the German carnival and Europe. This attack is an attack on freedom of speech and expression. 

It’s all about criticising the mistakes religions and politics make. Of course when you are dragged through the mud you end up with a hurt feeling.

Take the closing words from a Mainz carnivalist 40 years ago speaking in the third person, “he will never be swayed; he will never become a tool. He will touch the hot iron, even it burns his fingers.” His words still apply today.

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