Storming the Rathaus + Keeping Up with the Karnevalians

Now that we’ve thrown in the towels (and ties!) on our first Karneval in Dusseldorf, it’s time to recap (more like recover!) on these last five days.

I’m STILL trying to wrap my head around all of this! Still in a bit of an altbier ‘n’ bubbly fog, but come ON! How many times in your life are you able to don a pink bob and “double-fist” in City Hall?

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So what IS Karneval?

For starters, imagine Halloween, St. Paddy’s Day and Mardi Gras (minus the nudity*) teaming up, pumping themselves with steroids and throwing a massive, FIVE-day costume bender brimming with confetti, booze, Karneval songs on repeat, more booze, the mayor playing along, old folks throwing down everywhere and a politically incorrect parade (with plenty of candy for the kids and/or greedy adults like me) to polish it all off.

*After seeing what an openly naked bunch the Germans really are (Americans, if you’ve been to locker rooms or saunas here, you know what I’m talking about!), it’s surprising there’s no public nudity in the midst of the Dusseldorf debauchery. For the record, I am not complaining about this missing element.

People of all ages and walks of life come out of the woodwork, AND those seemingly having the best time in their BEST-dressed attire are, well, usually some of the OLDEST!

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P.S. The woman to my left later GAVE me her medal. That is apparently a BIG deal. I will cherish it forever!! It’s a “Markt Frauen” (Market Women) medal from 1998. I LOVED talking to these ladies, or, well, trying to. Slight German-English barrier…but clinking, smiling, hugging and laughing are surely universal!

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Upon further investigation and scrolling through pics of years past, pretty sure this guy was Hoppeditz at one time.

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THESE ladies. Loved them. Dusseldorf natives.

I can’t say enough about the older and elderly folks I see walking around town, fully participating in these annual celebrations and functioning in ways that aren’t common in the States.

Europeans are outliving a lot of us, so it’s time we take some notes.

OK. So, what’s the HISTORY of Karneval? I’ve been reading up to give you a proper download.

Every year on Nov. 11 at 11:11 a.m. (coinciding with St. Martin’s Day), the Hoppeditz (AKA the jester carnival mascot) wakes up, drops out of a mustard pot (Hello! The Dorf is famous for its mustard!), playfully roasts the mayor on the market square, then, Karneval begins. I still can’t figure out where the jester originated or what this has to do with St. Martin’s Day, but, hey! He starts the party, and that’s all anyone cares about.

With the exception of the Karneval Verein, the carnival club/planning committee that meets, DRINKS and sings regularly in silly hats, not much happens between November and the start of the pre-Lent partying. Everyone else is too busy guzzling hot gluhwein (dangerously delicious spiced wine), noshing on piles of kartoffelpuffer (really, really greasy potato pancakes dipped in apple sauce) and celebrating Christmas harder than their children to even THINK about Karneval!

Although, in December, I do recall spotting sprinklings of old men in animal onesies and medieval gear smoking outside a brauhaus or two.

Then, after everyone and their mother, brother and lover blasts their own fireworks into every corner of the Dorf, the only medicine for their New Year’s hangovers and post-Christmas blues? KARNEVAL!

>>> Whoever told me Germans are fun-haters was totally wrong.

>>> Forget retiring in Florida, people. All the fun’s in Dusseldorf!

From here on out, perhaps the best way to explain the rituals and customs of Karneval is to recount my personal experiences…in pictures, of course.

HERE GOES!

It all kicks off on Altweiberfastnacht (Women’s Day/Women’s Carnival), the Thursday before Ash Wednesday. This is the day when “all the women can assume control,” cut ties and shoelaces off of men and apparently even kiss any man they want. (I didn’t see much random lip-locking. Luckily, everyone in City Hall was goin’ for cheeks.)

So, at 8:00 a.m. on Thursday, my scissors, champagne and I were ready to rock. I thought the tram ride down to the Altstadt would be a bit awkward, but some other costumes were surprisingly in my view. Phew!

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Thanks to a gracious invite to join the American Women’s Club in their annual “Storm the Rathaus” festivities, I met my fellow “Heartbreakers” in front of City Hall.

As you can see, we were some of the first women to line up in the “holding pen.” They only allow a limited number of ladies through the doors each year, so you best get there early! It was COLD standing there till 11:11 a.m., but there’s nothin’ a little spiked coffee and champagne can’t fix. Am I right or am I right?

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After a while, crowds started filling the square…

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Then, things started rolling. Per tradition, the mayor came out and chatted with the ladies!!!

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Then, we sandwiched the mayor…

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Then, I turned around and saw these bitchin’ witches.

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Meanwhile, a news guy planted himself right by us, so I had no choice but to video-bomb him. If you want to see me on live TV (HAHA, what?!), mosey over to 13:30.

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Our group got interviewed a number of times!! Note to self: “Spreche Sie English?” does NOT get you interviewed, so I just stuck to video-bombing. LOL!

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Per more tradition, the mayor hopped on the mic from the City Hall balcony and rattled off all kinds of charming comments to get us ladies riled up.

“Women, you should be home cooking kartoffel for your husbands!!”  

It was all in German, of course, so, that was entertaining…

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If you look really closely for the most confused looking woman in the crowd, you’ll see me.

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At about 11:09 a.m., I joined in on an aggressive chant in German. I turned to a girl next me and asked, “WHAT are we chanting?” She laughed and said, “Let us IN! Let us IN!”

At 11:11 a.m., they counted down and opened the DOORS!!!

Want to see the footage? Scroll down to the first video. Recognize anyone at 1:30? Eh?? Eh??

Here’s a fun view from inside. I loved how we matched the decor!

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THEN, I cut my first tie!!!!!! What a good sport this man was. Notice how he’s wearing TONS of ties? Ha! He was popular.

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Awww…a post-tie-cut kiss!

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There were media people everrrywhere, and most of them were in costumes, too. Amazing.

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The PRINCE! We got a picture with the PRINCE!

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Ohhhh…and now for my favorite. guys. ever. As soon as these Dusseldorf natives knew I was from Colorado, they were pretty pumped.

“We smoke marijuana every day, so we can’t wait to get to Denver!! We saw on TV that there’s a type of weed out there called ‘into the couch.’ When you smoke it, you go INTO THE COUCH. Bahahaha!”

So, I made them pretend to be smoking with me…

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The crowds in the Rathaus were INSANE!! Don’t worry. This woman really doesn’t have two heads…

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These guys were guarding some VIP room. I tried to squeeze in. They weren’t impressed with my antics.

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This guy said, “Now I’m married,” then, put on his golf glove that clearly covered his wedding ring and said, “Now I’m single.” OH BOY…

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Total debauchery, I tell you!! I thought we were going to bust into City Hall and see people carrying on business as usual, working at desks, yada yada yada. NOPE. OPEN BAR for EVERYONE!

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Hey, House Hunters International fans! Recognize the gal on the right?? The Wilhelm episode? Eh? Eh?

When it came time to leave, the crowds had grown even bigger!!

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HELAU!

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Then, came Friday.

What happened on Friday?

Couldn’t tell ya. We were hiding out, cooking chili and NOT keeping up with the Karnevalians! I have a pretty good guess of what it involved though. Costumes? Check. Booze? Check.

Thennn, came Saturday. Earlier in the week, David asked me to buy (or in his words, scoop up) the most ridiculous Karneval costumes I could find. I believe I accomplished the task. Am I right or am I right??

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Poor David was having a severe identity crisis that night.

“Am I a dog? Am I a bunny? Or am I a hare?”

“What does a bunny sound like?”

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We couldn’t have asked for a better group to celebrate this first Karneval with. We are so blessed and grateful to have met such great people out here!!

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Awww! {xoxo} So happy Deloitte connected us with these two!

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LOL! David was having a ball photo-bombing all the lovers.

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Then, he was taken in by a family of pink pigs…or cows…or whatever they were. “Goodbye, honey! Good luck in your new life!”

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We tried to go home. We really did. But next thing we knew, we were “shuffling” on cobble stone with full beers in our hands (THAT takes talent, P.S.) and cheering on Michael Jackson.

One of my favorite nights, ever! Hands down!

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THEN, it was Sunday. OOF! Can you say Sunday FUNday?! Hundreds of thousands of…you guessed it…MORE COSTUMED PEOPLE gathered along the Konigsallee and Old Town again.

I love this pic of David and his German coworker…especially everything happening behind them. Nuns, superheroes, you know…typical Sunday.

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Haha…I don’t know what it was about this man, but I just had to capture him and this awkward exchange.

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LEGO conga line!!

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Hmmm…some people put more effort into their outfits than others, and I’m pretty sure he stole my robe.

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“It would be ridiculous NOT to have a Killepitsch dance mob right here!”

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When in doubt, just put on a mustache!

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Whoa. Dang. McCormick, is that you?

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THEN, came ROSE MONDAY!! 

If stores boarding their windows isn’t a telling sign that Karneval gets KRAZY, I don’t know what is!

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Just when you thought everyone had had their fill after four days, they came back for more. I think 1 in 4 men was wearing an animal suit. I had no idea I was dressing David in such trendy attire.

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Just a couple of old boys waitin’ for a parade…

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I LOVE HIM.

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I REALLY, REALLY LOVE HIM.

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And THEM.

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And these little cuties!

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Whoa. That’s one jester you don’t want to mess with…

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Don’t you just love her and her best view in town?

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The KALM before the KRAZY! Local news reported that one million people gathered in the DORF for Rosenmontag!

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Gotta love how this important guy is just taking down a cigarette.

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The first group of the carnival!!! I’d say we got a pretty good spot, yeah?

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“Helau!!!” “HELAU!!” “Helau!” “HELAU!!!”

Loads of candy, caramels, taffy and flowers were flying out of these floats. It was like trick-or-treating backwards. I even got a hold of a mini mascara and tiny toy car!

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Then came all the political floats…

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You can get a load of all the floats here.

It was a serious ghost town in other parts of the city yesterday! Clearly, everyone was pulled to the parade!

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Well, Karneval, you were amazing.

I GUESS I’ll hang up this chicken suit once and for all.

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Until next year!!

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How language classes taught me way more than just German

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Today, I completed the last day of my intensive German classes, an experience that taught me more than I signed up for. Not only did I start chipping away at my understanding of this ridiculously hard but intriguing language (Got an A1 “diploma” under my belt, peeps!), but I also gained some incredible insights about people, other cultures and myself.

For the last three weeks, I’ve been going Monday-Friday from 9 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. and churning out nightly hausafgaben (homework). OOF! It’s been pretty intense, but it’s been great. If my job training didn’t begin next week, I probably would’ve signed up for another week with this eclectic crew!

(The hubs and I had originally registered online to take two weeks together starting Dec. 29, but on that Monday morning, we arrived to a note on the front door saying Sprachcaffe would be closed until Jan. 5. Waw wawww. Unfortunately this threw a wrench into David’s plan of attack with work. So, long story short, he had to dip out of classes altogether.)

On the Sunday before these classes started, I was bah-humbugging big-time. We had just spent 17 straight days together, and I didn’t want them to end.

This was truly one of the best. stretches. ever.

It kicked off with four nights in Rome, followed by the most dreamy overdose of home-cooked meals, champagne, Christmas movies, “Big Bang Theory” benders, wine, family FaceTime dates, sleeping in, recording my dreams, blogging, city strolls and a few parties sprinkled in.

I didn’t know how Christmas would feel being away from family, but by focusing on what this holiday season WAS, rather than what it WASN’T, everything felt exactly the way it needed to be. I realized how much I’ve taken for granted on holidays while also learning the power of being truly present in what’s in front of you.

It was also during this time that I had two huge realizations: 1) For the first time in YEARS, I was completely immersed in and 200% OK with pure and utter relaxation. 2) Since arriving in Germany, this experience has been unintended rehab for the workaholic in me. (More on that epiphany-in-progress later.)

So, when it came time for this first-and-likely-last-ultimate-holiday-vacation-bender to actually come to an end, I was pissed. I wasn’t ready to dive into a routine with responsibilities. I had no idea what to expect with these classes. Knowing that you’re about to spend days upon days cooped up in a room with people you’ve never met is a little intimidating, you know?

As D and I were walking down to the gym that Sunday, my mind was riddled with whining, which for the record, has been a very rare mindset since moving here. With how fleeting this journey has been and will be, I refuse to spend too much energy in the dumps about how different, new and challenging almost everything is. I’m trying to embrace it as much as humanly possible.

You see, I’ve been practicing the art of seeing every challenge as a blessing in disguise, a lesson from God, proof that I have more room to grow, or all of the above. It’s been remarkable to think this way. It’s been life-changing.

SO, it was only fitting that right when I was in the thick of my bah-humbugging…SPLAT! A bird POOPED on me. In all of its white, bright glory, right on my black North Face coat…a dollop of doo-doo had descended onto my chest, just barely missing my face. We started dying laughing.

THEN, it hit me: BIRD POOP IS GOOD LUCK! It was a sign from the Big Man Upstairs and all the birds I’ve been stalking to SNAP out of it.

See? Not everyone can say that shit landing on their coat turned their frown upside down, but that’s the power of positive thinking, people!

Now that all these pre-class jitters have turned into memories, I’m anxious to share what I’ve learned.

1. I’m officially obsessed with international environments.

You guys. I was the ONLY person from the States that stepped foot into this class for three weeks, with the exception of one guy who dropped in for a day from California. All the other students were from Hungary, Spain, India, Japan, Iran, Turkey, Czech Republic, Mexico, Colombia, China, Russia and France.

Some came and went depending on their level or instructor availability, but how COOL is that to be with people from ALL over the planet? People of all different ages, origins, interests and personalities cramming together into one room to learn the same language…THAT was fun. I want more.

Dusseldorf is a massive melting pot. I love it.

2. Assumptions are dangerous!

When I found out on the first day that mostly everyone in the class wasn’t even living in Dusseldorf, I was a little bummed. “These people won’t care to get to know me. Why spend energy becoming friends with people who don’t even live here?”

Well, that was a silly way to think, and I’m glad that mindset quickly faded.

I sat next to this adorable couple who lives on the island of Majorka in Spain, and let me just say that David and I are SO going to visit them. IT is GORGEOUS. Apparently this is where tons of Germans flock to, hence why they were here studying up on Deutsch.

And it turns out that this college student from Mexico, who just moved to Dusseldorf, will be taking German and English classes at Berlitz. He may just be one of my students! He also seems to have a pretty good green chili hook-up. 😉

Then, there was this hilarious, pony-tailed guy from the Czech Republic, who on the first day was wearing suspenders and a tight T-shirt that accentuated his beer belly and said “GO HARD.” He spoke often and proudly about his two main hobbies: trinken bier and hören Heavy Metal. He also gave me a pretty stellar list of the best places to drink bier and wein when we go to Prague and beyond.

3. If you’re the smartest person in the room, you’re in the wrong place.

After the second class, I tried to get a one-on-one tutor. I felt super intimidated and way behind. I felt like I was holding the class up with all my questions and confusion. This Russian mother-daughter duo was already rattling off the German alphabet, impressive vocab and full sentences…AH!!! BUT, I’m soooo glad my instructor encouraged me to stick it out. We ALL struggled at times, and we ALL helped each other at times.

FRAN, if you’re reading this, I’m so grateful for you always pointing me to the right pages and sections…and ALL the vocabulary keys that I seemed to never notice!

In short: It’s good to surround yourself with people who keep you growing. It’s OK to ask for help! We’re all in this together.

4. Living here is like getting a second chance at growing up. 

Speaking of the alphabet, I feel like I’m growing up all over again. It’s hilarious sitting in a room of all adults as we stumble over our words. It’s SO exciting to be recognizing certain words on signs or in people’s conversations on the tram.

I’m learning at LEAST one new thing every hour. If only my brain were as fresh and spongy as a child’s…

5. Laughter, smiles, music and hugs are universal.

We may not have always understood each other, but we laughed…A LOT. This guy from Japan even beatboxed for me one day.

And today??? My heart SANG when these people got up to give me the biggest hugs goodbye when they knew I was done with the class. One guy from Turkey barely spoke English (OH MAN, I felt for him and how lost he was!), but he had the biggest heart and made me laugh.

6. I miss being around the same people every day.

It’s been a long time since I’ve had to go to the same place with the same people for weeks in a row. I think that’s partly why I loved this so much. In the States, I was working solo much of the time at home, coffee shops or client sites, and meeting spots and faces were always revolving.

7. I’ve been lying to myself. I’m SO not used to shorter days and grey skies.

OK, that’s not really something I learned. It’s more of a complaint. OOPS! I can’t tell you how many days I overslept and slugged my way to Sprachcaffe (The sun is still not rising until 8:30 a.m. Bahhh!), but once I arrived, everyone’s energy got me movin’ and groovin’.

8. Attempting to speak German with people here is more FUN than it is intimidating.

OK, I’m still a HUGE beginner, but I’m finding it so fun to have mini conversations with people and attempt to ask properly for things at restaurants, bars, cafes and the grocery store. I’m finding that people really do appreciate your efforts to speak German. Their demeanor really changes as soon as you say “Entschuldigung, aber ich lerne Deutsch.”

Last weekend, I was even talking to the woman behind the cheese counter at EDEKA and a guy next to me about how Colorado is beautiful, has great mountains, lots of sunshine, and thanks to the guy pointing it out…that Robert Redford is from there…ha ha ha! I told him he went to my college! Of course, half of this convo was in English, because if someone knows it, they’re either excited to practice it or they simply prefer efficiency. 😉

Yesterday on the tram, I was even having a mini chat with an elderly woman from Poland. I love it.

9. The world’s a more tolerant, peaceful place when you’re in language class.

It’s pretty unreal how many cultures came together and got along as well as we did. We’ve got a LONG way to go out there as a human race, but at least this class gave me a little taste of what I wish for this world.

10. We can be the change we want to see. 

I’m more inspired than ever to interact with as many different people and cultures as possible out here, whether it’s through butchered attempts at German or the native language at hand, more smiles, more questions, more attempts to make people laugh…or maybe even some dancing!

This country hasn’t been introduced to my notorious, injury-inducing dance moves…yet.