Of all of the weekends for me to pick to go to Tübingen, I was fortunate enough to pick the one of their annual karneval!
Karneval is called Alemannische Fasnet (or Fasching) in this part of southern Germany and is a centuries-old tradition to commemorate the end of winter, wherein groups dress in costume and parade through town. People who participate are dressed as old witches, bears, horned beasts, and monsters, in order to scare away the gods of winter. It is also a time of lawlessness and so at various times these beasts and ghouls would grab a bystander and take her shoes or blow confetti in another’s face. More jovially, they threw candy into the crowd and climbed onto each other to form pyramids.
In the morning, before the parade started, I saw different “teams” of costumed people arriving, some playing music on brass instruments and many drinking beer, as they walked towards the town center. I was impressed by the ages of the participants—they varied from children to the silver-haired. My friend (who comes from another part of Germany) explained that these people are members of clubs that participate in karnevals all around the country, and that each town has a club. She also noted that karneval is not as big a deal in the traditionally-Protestant Tübingen and its region as it is in the Catholic regions (where it is meant to celebrate Fat Tuesday), and that it is especially huge in Cologne.
To enter the parade, it cost three euros and we received a badge to wear and a program guide. We stationed ourselves by the town center’s church on Holzmarkt Straße, next to the parade’s announcer.
As each group marched by the grandstand, the announcer would yell a word and the crowd would yell another. It took us a moment to figure out what was going on, but we then noticed that next to each group’s name in our programs were two words, the call and response. These are Narrenrufe, or "fools' calls," and every city/region/club has its own. My friend's example is "Kölle/Alaaf" (Cologne/"luck" in Celtic). Examples of what I heard were Narri/Narro, Hexa/Banner, Hopfa/Zopfa...but I have no idea what they mean. They're fun to yell, though.
The concession stand sold what looked to be pork and mustard sandwiches (that I would have tried if I hadn’t just eaten) and various beers and juices. I simply ordered ein bier and received a hell bier with the metal pop-up closure—which always makes me happy, like a child, because I enjoy popping it, closing it, and repeating. When giving me a beer, the woman also gave me a little silver disc, which she told me to return along with the bottle for a 50-cent refund. (Apparently this is common practice.) So all told, a street beer is two euros. Not bad.
The whole experience felt so foreign to me, including little things like the silver disc, but appeared to be so ordinary to those around me. It was a good learning experience and an awesome, random way to spend an afternoon!