HELAU and Goodbye!

HELAU and Goodbye!

 

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There was no more festive way we could have possibly spent our last week in Germany last month. After three years and almost four months living abroad, the raucous atmosphere of Fasching seemed to be the most fitting way for us to bid farewell to life abroad. And, as celebrations ended and made way for the somber season of Lent, so too ended our international adventures (for now!) as we transitioned back to life in the United States.

In case you need a refresher, Fasching is the German equivalent of Mardi Gras or Carnival. The very air is charged with excitement, music and Schnapps during the main Fasching period, which spans from the Thursday (the ladies’ day of Fasching) to the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday. Oddly, the main day is Monday, known as Rosenmontag.

As we’ve been fortunate enough to live in one of the two rival German Fasching capitals, we dressed up in animal onesies along with fest-goers of all ages to watch hours and hours of the parade that boldly snakes its way throughout Mainz on Rosenmontag to shouts of “Helau!” (the Fasching greeting). This was, of course, after several days of smaller warm-up parades in neighboring areas of Wiesbaden.

Parade groups and floats represented local businesses, hobby clubs, marching bands, giant heads, clowns, Swiss Güggemusik (brass bands with elaborate costumes and airbrushed facepaint), Austrian/Bavarian witches, social commentary, and political satire. As you can imagine, the last of these was brutal this year, mocking Olympic doping, American president Trump, Turkish president Erdogan, Brexit, EU leadership, and more.

Every night of the fest was a costume party in Mainz as well. We went out several times to eat Bratwurst and wander through the carnival rides and stands in the old town. One night the cover band we were listening to started playing a familiar tune that turned out to be the theme song from the 80s cartoon show Duck Tales! This turned into a medley of theme songs from similar kids’ tv shows Chip and Dale Rescue Rangers (known in Germany as Chip and Chap) and Gummy Bears. The last one got a lot of Germans singing along. After all Haribo, the main producer of gummy bear candies, is German.

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Helau from Fasching in Mainz and for now, goodbye to Germany!

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Many more details on Fasching can be found here:
What is Fasching All About?
11/11 at 11:11
Fasching Costumes on Parade
Into the Fifth Season

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11/11 at 11:11

11/11 at 11:11
Schillerplatz with Fastnacht fountain
Schillerplatz with Fasching fountain

Once again, we have officially entered the Fifth Season, aka Karneval. Remember my first week here in Germany back in November 2013? I looked outside to get a sense of the weather by what people outside were wearing and was confused to see guys dressed up in some kind of old-timey marching band uniforms on Veteran’s Day. Years later I learned that this is because Mainz, arguably the Karneval headquarters of Germany, holds a celebration to officially open the festive fool’s holiday season.

At exactly 11:11 on November 11, a proclamation of sorts, written in rhyme and read with heavy Meenzer accents, was read to a crowd of partyers packed into Schillerplatz. This town square is notable year-round for its whimsical Fastnacht fountain, depicting an assorted cascade of fools and merriment, as well as several other Fasching-related statues. (Fasching and Fastnacht are also Karneval-related terms. Mardi Gras, if you prefer.)

The cold drizzle and muddy garden areas around the square on Friday did not keep crowds away. On the contrary, people showed up in umbrella-toting masses to drink, rock out to live music, watch the opening ceremony parade, and shout “Helau!” Many, but not all, were already wearing Fasching costumes: goofy hats, cute animal onesies, elaborate face paint, often coordinated among groups of friends. Definitely nowhere near as raucous as the main festivities at the end of the season, but impressively attended and festive nonetheless.

We could only take about an hour of the weather and crammed standing quarters before we bid farewell to this grandiose Mainz tradition. But it and we will be back in full force when the main Fasching celebrations begin: Thursday, February 23 (Weiberfastnacht, the ladies’ day of Karneval) through Tuesday, February 28 (Faschingsdienstag, Mardi Gras, the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday). As always, the biggest and wildest day of festivities will be Rosenmontag, the Monday in that time period, this year falling on February 27.

For more on Karneval/Fasching/Fastnacht, see:

What is Fasching All About? where I sum up my first impressions (still accurate) of what makes this holiday.

Into the Fifth Season with a little about costume shopping, our visit to the quaint Fastnacht Museum in Mainz, and pictures of Schillerplatz sans people.

5 Surprising Facts about Oktoberfest

5 Surprising Facts about Oktoberfest

Oktoberfest entrance

We finally made it to the official Munich Oktoberfest! With a motley crew of old and new friends all dressed up to get down, we were wished well by an older Bavarian gentleman gardening in a felt hat on our way to the train station the morning of our visit.

Here are a few things that might surprise you about Oktoberfest:

Rides and stands

  1. It’s family-friendlier than you would expect

While the highlight of the fest takes place in the more than a dozen big brewery tents, the festival is actually laid out as a carnival with rides, games, food stands and souvenir booths. We visited the Schottenhamel tent on a Thursday afternoon, and the lunch crowd was pretty tame – pleasant chatting, pretzel eating and beer drinking to the sounds of a traditional Bavarian brass “oompah” band.
Löwenbräu

Löwenbräu tent

  1. You don’t need to make reservations

To enter the Wiesen area, as the fest grounds are called, you just need to pass through a bag check under the main archway. From there, as mentioned, there’s a lot to see and do outside of the tents. There are even areas of tables in the tents that are for anyone without a reservation. If you get there early, particularly on a weekday, it shouldn’t be difficult to snag one of these tables. With a little patience, even our group of nine was able to find a non-reserved table outside and eventually inside the Lӧwenbrӓu tent in the late afternoon/early evening. And once we were in, the waiters were serious about helping us make sure no one else tried to take over our table.

Schottenhamel

Schottenhammel tent

  1. But if you want to reserve a table, do it months in advance

When I reserved our lunch table in April, all of the evening slots were already booked! The advantage to having a reservation is that you’re guaranteed a place to sit and get service, plus enjoy live music. Again, not necessary to do in advance but nice and also very easy. I booked the table online and we prepaid less than 24€ a person for the minimum amount of food and drink (tickets for a roasted half-chicken and a big Maβ of beer). This way you guarantee the brewery tent some business (you can even prepay for more food and drink tickets if you want to bring less cash), plus you can stay at the table for several hours and order anything else you want.

Schottenhammel

  1. It’s normal to dress up, but be careful about tying those apron strings

As our train got closer to the fest, more and more Bavarians and tourists alike boarded wearing Lederhosen and Dirndls. By the time we reached our stop, we were able to follow the multi-generational sea of Tracht (traditional clothes) straight to the Wiesen. Important for ladies to note is where to tie the apron strings that go with the Dirndl. A bow on the right indicates that you’re married, left means single, and back is for widows. The Tracht (particularly the Lederhosen) is expensive, so some of our friends just got the checkered shirt and a hat to blend in with the crowd.

Schottenhammel tent

 

  1. You’ll have at least one song memorized early on

Yes, even if you don’t know any German, you’ll be very familiar with this song in a short time because its chorus is played after every few songs. Of course, this goes along with everyone in the tent raising their glasses and toasting each other:

Ein Prosit, ein Prosit der Gemütlichkeit!
Ein Prosit, ein Prosit der Gemütlichkeit!
Eins, zwo, drei, g’suffa!

(My very rough translation: “Cheers, cheers to feeling good! / One, two, three, drink up!”)

Next stop for us in Tracht: Cannstatter Volksfest, the Oktoberfest of Stuttgart, in about a week. Prost!

Small Town Tradition: The Lorchhausen Kerb

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As usual for Germany, it’s been a month full of festivals. A Harley Davidson festival full of bikers who had ridden in from all over Europe (including England), the typical summer Rheinland wine festivals and wine hikes, street food festivals, horseback riding tournaments, Wiesbaden’s big summer Wilhemstraβenfest, the enormous but short-lived Mainzer Johannisnacht to commemorate the summer solstice…

But the most interesting festivals for me are still the small-towniest of the small town festivals. And recently the sounds of a brass marching band and the sight of a few street festival rides and booths dragged us in to Lorchhausen at just the right moment to experience the highlight of their annual Kerb.

We pulled up to see every able-bodied man in this Rhein-side village carrying a massive tree – freshly cut, stripped of its bark, and decorated with ribbons and a pine wreath similar to a May pole – on their collective shoulders. After a swig of local white wine doled out from a large stoneware pitcher, they hemmed and hawed for the next half hour to raise the post. Clearly the entire process had been carefully planned and perfected over the years. Lashed wooden ladders and struts of varying lengths were systematically employed and replaced as the iconic tree shifted gradually into its correct position. Ropes attached were adjusted along the way, with long-handled hooks being necessary now and then to untangle them from the branches of living trees lining the path.

The rest of the townsfolk stood a safe distance back, mostly facing the Rhein just behind a row of long wooden picnic tables and benches, beer or bratwurst in hand, cheering on every success in the process. After all the hard work had paid off, the brass band started up again and the rest of the wine in the big pitchers was sloshed out to tree-lifters and bystanders alike.

Several other towns on the Rhein have these Kerb festivals, but Lorchhausen is proud to be the only town that preps and raises the post entirely by hand. Their celebration always takes place the first weekend in June. Primitive in its origins, complex in its execution, this was quite a unique festival that we happened to stumble across.

Setting up the fulcrum
Setting up the fulcrum

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Success!
Success!

50 Shades of Green Sauce

The number of people who don't know green sauce
The number of people who don’t know green sauce

Green sauce with the traditional hard-boiled eggs and potatoes. Green sauce on schnitzel. Green sauce on fish. Green sauce on French fries. Even green sauce sorbet and chocolates. These were a few of the treats offered at Frankfurt’s recent Green Sauce Festival.

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So what is green sauce exactly? (For, as one festival banner astutely noted, most of the world outside of its hometown Frankfurt is in the dark about “Grie Soβ” – so called in the local dialect, as opposed to the standard German “Grüne Soβe.”)

The 7 herbs
The 7 herbs

It’s actually quite tasty, contrary to how it may sound. Sour cream- and yogurt-based with chopped hard-boiled eggs, oil and vinegar. The greenish color comes from a mix of seven herbs, half of which I’ve never heard of before: borage, burnet, chervil, chives, garden cress, parsley and sorrel.

Traditional green sauce with eggs and potatoes
Traditional green sauce with eggs and potatoes (and Apfelwein)

As I mentioned, this creamy sauce is traditionally served with more hard-boiled eggs and potatoes, usually along with Frankfurt’s sour specialty drink: apple wine. But at this small street festival, bordered by food trucks and more traditional food and drink stands, Frankfurt went all out experimenting with other possibilities.

In addition, each Frankfurter has their own style of making the local dish. So a contest was held over the week the festival ran to determine whose green sauce is the best this year.

Green sauce sorbet
Green sauce sorbet

By the way, the green sauce sorbet tasted exactly like you would expect an herb-based ice to taste. Interestingly, the herby “green” taste was complemented by a sweeter layer of strawberry sorbet. The white chocolate truffles filled with green sauce cream were also a mix of herb and sweet flavors, and surprisingly delicious. Well worth a visit just for the creative experimentation with this local sauce.

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For more on Frankfurt cuisine: Frankfurt Tourism Site

And to make your own Grie Soß: Green Sauce Recipe

The Most Interesting Things in the Least Interesting City: Frankfurt’s Spring Festival

Dippe: What this fest is all about
Dippe: What this fest is all about

Frankfurt isn’t known for many things. A busy international airport hub, a thriving financial district, Goethe’s house, and a few traditional-style houses in its old town area. While two of the top ten must-sees may be train stations, even one of the least interesting major German cities has a little bit of local charm.

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Apfelwein
Apfelwein

Last weekend I got to see the best of what Frankfurt has to offer at the Frühjahrs- (spring) Dippemess festival: Apfelwein, Apfelwein pitchers, and Wurst. The only thing missing was Frankfurt’s signature green sauce. Believe it or not, that gets its own festival next month!

The Dippemess, which takes place for several weeks in both spring and fall, is a fair named in honor of the distinctive ceramic pots and pitchers known in Frankfurter dialect as “Dippe.” Handmade grayish kitchen containers of all shapes and sizes painted with flowery blue designs lined the shelves of several stands almost hidden at the heart of the fairground. Traditionally the pitchers are used for serving Frankfurt’s famously sour apple wine, usually poured into small glasses marked with crisscross patterns. In true German fashion, many of the containers had etched labels to avoid any kitchen confusion. Many short fat pots among these were, of course, for Handkӓs’, a pungent cheese considered to be another Frankfurt specialty.

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The rest of the Festplatz was packed with fun and rather ridiculous rides, carnival games, and delicious festival food. This year the Frühjahrs-Dippemess runs until April 19. More about the Green Sauce Festival in early May. Guten Appetit!

The ABCs of Mainzer Johannisnacht

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Johannisnacht (St. John’s Eve) is a time to celebrate the longest day of the year, the summer solstice. In Germany, of course, this calls for a festival. I thought it was a small festival being set up on the Mainz side of the Rhein River, but it turns out to be the biggest Fest I’ve ever seen so far. It outdoes the Christmas market in size, stretching along the Rhein in both directions from the Theodor-Heuss-Brücke (bridge) and spiraling into and through the Altstadt (old town). However, it only lasts for one long weekend. Here I describe this past weekend’s Mainzer Johannisnacht Fest – mostly with food – according to the alphabet.

Ananas und Apfel = Pineapple and apple. Here these fruits are covered in chocolate on a stick. If you don’t like either, you can also find chocolate-covered strawberries, bananas, grapes, melon, and other fruits.

Bratwurst. Typical fest food served with a roll or French fries.

Currywurst = Sliced Bratwurst drizzled with a curry ketchup-like sauce. This is also a very typical food and most commonly served with fries.

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Dom = Cathedral. The Mainzer Dom at the heart of the Altstadt is surrounded by Biergarten areas, music, rides, games, and food stands during the Johannisnacht Fest.

Eis (pronounced “ice”) = Ice cream. Several stands brag of having “American ice cream.” This is also the first time in Germany that I’ve seen soft serve ice cream and slushies.

Fußball (ß means ss) = Soccer, Football. Because the World Cup is going on at the same time this year, just about every booth has a TV showing the games. On Saturday, Germany played Ghana and tied 2-2.

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Glas = Glass. There aren’t many plastic cups here, so you pay a deposit of 2 Euros or so for a glass of beer, water, juice, or soda. When you return the glass, you get your deposit back. Erdbeerbowle, or strawberry punch, is the current seasonal drink and is usually available in a plastic cup at this Fest.

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Herzen = Hearts. Gingerbread hearts with “Ich liebe dich” (I love you) and other cutesy phrases iced onto them fill many stands.

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Imbiss = Snack. In addition to Bratwurst and fries, German Imbiss stands also sell snacks such as fresh-cut potato chips, fried potato pancakes with applesauce, Spätzle (noodles), cheeses, pickles, fried mushrooms, and a variety of small grilled meat dishes.

Jägermeister. A shot of this German herb-flavored liquor sells for a Euro.

Kunst = Art. Booths of jewelry, ceramics, paintings, wood carvings, and many more handmade crafts line the Rhein.

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Literatur = Literature. One large spin-off area of the Fest houses a used book market and a printing booth that would make former Mainz resident Johannes Gutenberg proud.

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Magenbrot. These small slices of iced spice cake, similar to gingerbread, are sold by weight in bags at the nuts and sweets stands.

Nüsse = Nuts. The nut stands define the smell of sweet and breathe deliciousness throughout the Fest. Almonds, cashews, peanuts, walnuts, pistachios, and more are roasted, candy-coated, and sold in cone-shaped bags. Coconuts (not actually nuts) are sold by the slice here too.

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Orangensaft = Orange juice. Fresh squeezed, this is a refreshing Fest drink.

Popcorn. This is usually sold by the bag at the same stands as the nuts and other treats. It can be topped with salt, honey, chili, or chocolate.

Quintinsstraße = Quintin’s Street. One of the few streets in the old town area that the Fest doesn’t extend to. This is a good spot to take a break from the crowds.

Riesenrad = Ferris wheel. From here you can have a great view of the Rhein and the old town area of Mainz. And for about 60 Euros, you and five friends can drink sparkling wine and watch fireworks from a Riesenrad car on the last night of the Fest.

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Schießen = Shooting. A popular game at many booths where you can use BB guns to shoot plastic flowers, metal shapes, and other targets for prizes. Other games include the claw machines, duck ponds, can pyramid knockdowns, and other standard carnival schemes.

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Tanzmusik = Dance music. At least six stages of live music and a DJ booth provide entertainment with mostly American and some German rock & roll and pop music.

Ungarische Langos = Hungarian Langos (fried flat bread with sweet or savory toppings). These and other foreign foods are scattered throughout the fair amongst the more common German grills: Italian pizza, French crêpes, Spanish churros, U.S. beef, Thai noodles, and so on.

Volk (pronounced “folk”) = Folk, People. This is one crowded fest!

Wahrsagerin/Wahrsager = Fortune teller (literally, truth-sayer). In a few secretive booths, you can learn about your future.

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XXL, IntoXX, und eXtreme Rutschen = The XXL takes riders around and around and upside down; the Intoxx is the swinging pirate ship; and the extreme slides provide a quick and bumpy ride to the bottom. Other rides throughout the fest include bumper cars, teacups, swings, merry-go-rounds and other kiddie rides, and many other rides that spin and twist.

YOLO = You Only Live Once. Yes, they have that expression in Germany too. It’s a good attitude for this summer Fest and it brings me to Z for…

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Zuckerwatte = Cotton candy. The most classic of the street festival sweets is handspun and I found it the best way to end the Mainzer Johannisnacht Fest!