15 Minutes of Fame

They say that everyone will have their 15 minutes of fame at least once in their life, and I am proud to say that mine came in lil ol’ Saarbrücken this morning, all à cause du 15th of February 2008, the day when all of Saarland turned to smoke-free bars and cafes.

Sitting at my favorite table in Ubu Roi, drinking my milchkaffee from a bowl, I watched as a cameraman, sound guy, and newscaster entered each of the cafes around the Nauwieser Viertel, and proceeded to interview die Leute on their thoughts about the new policy. As I was plumb in the center of their panning shot of the cafe, I like to think I’ll be in the evening news some time tonight, forever memorialized in the annals of Saarbrücken life. This is, of course, not as terribly exciting as it would have been had I owned a television (or had I actually given an interview), but well, what the hey.. I’ll take it.

In any case, whereas spending ten minutes in a cafe before would have you smelling like you’d spent the night in a bar.. on the floor.. in a pile of cigarette butts.. and you’d go out into the fresh air with a raspy voice and feeling as if dirt had sifted into your lungs.., now you can leave with only the rich, warm smell of coffee permeating your hair, your clothes, your soul.

Alle, Hopp!

Karneval is one of the more peculiar of German traditions, and this year’s manifestations, as the year before, provided me with no end of amusement. It is a holiday predating Christianity, yet revealing deep-seated religious roots, replete with whimsical customs bordering on the superstitious, and steeped in proletarian mores.


The preparations for Carneval begin away back in November, and more precisely, on 11/11 at the 11’th minute of the 11’th hour (makes me wonder what’s in store for 2011). Its mascot is the court jester, the one who could safely make fun of kings and rulers without punishment, and its motto being, “If you are not a fool during Carneval, you will be one the rest of the year.” The festivities typically begin on January 30th and last until Ash Wednesday, with balls, parties, and parades, and children young and old dressed in outrageous costume.


In Saarbrücken, the weekend that makes up Carneval begins on Thursday, the day I like to refer to as “tie-cutting” day, that is, the day when anyone, anywhere can take a pair of scissors and cut off a man’s tie (the ultimate symbol of toppling power and authority – I’ve not yet had a chance to do this).


This is followed by the childrens’ march through town on Friday, when store owners come out and throw candy at them (conveniently staged in February, the lil lads and lasses often wear coats and gloves over their carneval costumes, and the candy lands in the rain-and-mud soaked streets). For the past two years, the kids marched right under my window, singing and yelling and making a mad dash for the candy. I was in stitches when the woman from the bakery, known for her grouchiness and scowls, came out with a bucket full of bonbons, and suddenly found herself buried under little bodies and snatching hands, which fairly knocked her over. The candy was gone in seconds.


Lastly is the parade on Rosenmontag, to which my roommate Michael wanted to go. To save him from himself, my other roommate Roland and I agreed to accompany him. The parade began at… wait for it.. 1:11 in the afternoon and featured the usual marching bands, baton girls, cigarette-puffing nuns, and floats with dancing lunes tossing out candy to the crowd.


I am not particularly fond of parades, especially after getting knocked on the head with a cherry taffy, but as soon as I saw that they were handing out cups of glühwein and beer to the adults, I was in. Once I saw a girl carrying a wooden tray on a post with tiny plastic cups, just like the ones they use in church when they serve grape juice and crackers for communion, only these were full of schnapps. Alas, the girl eluded me. I even saw evidence of tiny bottles of brandy and various other kinds of schuss which were thrown out alongside the party poppers.


At this point, we became impatient standing in one spot waiting for them to come, and proceeded to take them on through the ranks, passing one group after another in the opposite direction, trying to get them to throw us their bags of chips, popcorn, candy, and even marshmallow-filled kissenkuchen. Everyone sang “Alle, hopp!” and someone hit me with a nice dose of paper confetti, right in my hair. It was a party every time I shook my head.


Then it rained. We drearily walked several miles back to the bus stop, and I reflected that perhaps Halloween was much nicer as it takes place in the wind of fall rather than the drizzle of a rainy winter.