Long worn Trinidad costumes made their revival at a famous and historical German Carnival Fancy Dress Ball last month, coinciding with T&T Carnival. These costumes may have been old for a Trini to wear for C2K9 but not so for Alexandra Carolin Koch and her friends. With much hard work new costumes were created and designed, old ones repaired. These costume pieces, were either collected on the streets or handed down from masquerades from award winning bands in earlier Trinidad Carnivals.
Alexandra and her fun-loving “posse” ventured into the cold and wintry February evening and attended the Prinzengarde Fancy Dress Ball in the city of Mainz, one of the strongholds of the German Carnival. The Mainzer Prinzengarde guild has a tradition of 125 years and they gave Mainz the fame of being an El Dorado for the big carnival ballroom dance with fancy dress. With this year’s event marking its 125th anniversary, the organisers went out their way to make 2009 a special one.
On arrival in the reception hall one was greeted by the rhythm of the Salsa, Meringue, Rumba and of course the hot beat of pan, performed by the one and only Fitzroy Burroughs, a true native Trini residing in Germany. Burroughs left Trinidad a few years ago and started a band (Kaskadu), integrating the national instrument of T&T with conventional instruments and percussion. He is indeed a true ambassador for promoting steelband music in Germany.
The Prinzengarde fancy dress “bram” attracted crowds in large numbers. The visitors went out of their way to disguise themselves in the most extraordinary and astounding costumes one can imagine. Some came as blow balls, fairies, devils or even as the Joker, played by the late Heath Ledger in The Dark Crusader. This is when Alexandra and her girls came out in their Trini Carnival costumes and were asked to take the stage for a better appearance. An array of colour flooded the stage, feathers, beads and the beautiful dancing girls, who wore them, stunned the eyes of the decisive and lustful beholders. The astonishment was tremendous.
Alexandra who is of Trini-German mixture had the sway to persuade her friends to show off these beautiful but skimpy costumes, each causing eyebrows, and the temperature, to rise in chilly Mainz. The girls, who braved the low temperatures experienced a new chapter in their life—Trini tropical laissez-faire feeling mixed with German gloomy winter blues. A good time was had by all.
There are three strongholds of Germany’s Carnival—Cologne, Mainz and Duesseldorf, all located along the Rhine river. Rhineland festivities developed especially strongly, since it was a way to express subversive anti-Prussian and anti-French thoughts in times of occupation, through parody and mockery. German Carnival tradition is mostly celebrated in the predominantly Roman Catholic southern and western parts of the country.
Modern carnival began though in 1823 with the founding of a Carnival Club in Cologne and from then on there was no stopping for the “fifth season.” Starting each year, on November 11, at 11.11 pm, preparations get on their way. The council of 11 (Elferrat) wearing traditional fools caps, hail in the new season letting only Advent and Christmas temporary interrupt.
Just after New Year’s formal sit-down evenings, costume balls and parties get on their way, most of them organised by carnival clubs. The actual carnival week starts as early as the Thursday before carnival, (Weiberfasching) when the women of the town, wearing masks, storm the town halls cutting off the ties from clerks leaving only blunt stumps and spiritless masculine faces. Many women are rewarded with a kiss.
This tradition is almost as old as modern carnival itself. In the middle of the 19th century, washwomen from the Rhine region emancipated themselves by symbolically taking over the male dominancy, at least for a day. This practice has become so popular, that many towns and villages have taken over this “women’s liberation act” and victory over manhood and bureaucracy. Rose Monday and Shrove Tuesday parades are also held in many small villages each with their traditional costumes. Celebrations are widespread and the time of merrymaking begins. On Ash Wednesday the celebrations end and it is business as usual.