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From Conception to Ritualisation--A Case Study of the Cologne Carnival

From Conception to Ritualisation--A Case Study of the Cologne Carnival

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From conception to ritualisation: A case study of the Cologne carnival The Cologne carnival is a festival which is regarded by the

locals as deeply entrenched in their heritage and culture, despite having only around 200 years of history. Every year, both the locals and visitors from afar dress up in all kinds of costumes to attend the many small carnival parties held in Cologne during the festive season spanning from 11th November to Ash Wednesday. The highlight of the festival is the Rose Monday Parade which features over 10,000 people throwing sweets and flowers from the floats to the crowds as they complete the 7 kilometre route (Festkomitee Koelner karneval von 1823). The festival, assuming the identity of a traditional Catholic carnival which dates back to the 14th century (BCG Consulting Group, 2009), secures a high level of local participation and a strong sense of local ownership. During the carnival period, Cologne transforms into a pilgrimage centre for the carnival’s ritual, attracting many revellers from other parts of Germany and the rest of the world. In this essay, I shall argue that the affiliation to tradition has legitimised and authenticated the invention of the modern Cologne carnival in the local context, securing local engagement and in turn enabling its ritualised existence to generate a high level of foreign interest. First, I shall discuss the importance of invented tradition in legitimising and authenticating the existence of the Cologne carnival in the local community by drawing ideas from Hobsbawm and Abbott. With reference to Cohen and Moore, I will then show how this ‘authenticity’, that which is regarded as ‘Others’ by outsiders and ‘Ours’ by the locals, enables the creation of a ritual from the carnival, which sustains high levels of local and foreign participation. Although various forms of carnivals had been celebrated in the region since the 14th century, the Cologne carnival only took its form of organised celebration in 1823, with the founding of the “Festordnendes Komitee”1 (Festkomitee Koelner karneval von 1823). Besides formalising the carnival celebration, the modern carnival also established new traditions within itself such as the Rose Monday Parade (Abbott, 2008 p. 102).

1

The predecessor of today’s Festive Committee (Festkomitee Koelner karneval von 1823).

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Despite the fact that the modern Cologne carnival began as a “break in continuity” (Hobsbawm, 1983 p. 7) from the traditional carnival, thus an invention, its proclaimed association to the carnival tradition allows it to be accepted by the local community. The modern carnival was not an actual continuation of the informal street celebration that began in the 14th century, instead, its origin was a charity carnival masked ball and party in 1822. With its success, “a group of mostly young men from Cologne’s upper class *took+ control of it, remove[d] it from the streets as a private celebration, and transform[ed] it instead into an official public festival...[whose] intent was [no longer] specifically to fund public charities” (Abbott, 2008 p. 102). While it paid homage to the traditional carnival celebration, the origin of the modern carnival as a charity event had a completely different structure and purpose. In fact, this was an attempt by the Prussians, the new authority who took over Cologne after the French Revolutionary troops left, to ‘organise’ the street carnival which they felt was getting out of hand (Festkomitee Koelner karneval von 1823). The subsequent formation of an organised carnival committee in 1823 altered the unofficial formation of carnivals which sought to rebel against formal establishments and authority, resulting in the creation of an event that does not challenge the authority and was only carnivalesque in appearance. This establishment of a carnival organisation is oxymoronic, because it formalises and controls a festival that was anarchistic and rebellious in nature. The outward form of it as a continuation of the carnival tradition is the sine qua non which guaranteed the carnival’s success and legitimised its subsequent annual repetitions despite its formalisation. The modern carnival is a “continuity [of the traditional carnival which] is largely factitious” (Hobsbawm, 1983 p. 2). The Festkomitee rode on the success of the carnival-like charity event in their organisation of the modern carnival and injected a strong sense of affiliation to the carnival tradition in Cologne. As Abbott pointed out, this ‘official’ Carnival asserted an authenticity and a history that places it ‘above’ its non-official sanctioned counterparts (Abbott, 2008 p. 101). This contrived sense of established tradition in the form of an organised carnival injected a symbolic importance to the otherwise less significant celebration. Through the acknowledgement of it being a continuation of tradition, thus integral to their culture, the locals accepted the modern form of carnival, legitimising its existence.
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Having been accepted as an established tradition, the locals naturalised the carnival into their culture, and honoured this tradition through their extensive involvement in the festival, from being part of the organising committee and carnival clubs to becoming one of the revellers during the parade. The carnival successfully perpetuated the local culture through the establishment of “their own past by quasi-obligatory repetition” (Hobsbawm, 1983 p. 2). By recognising it as a part of the local cultural identity, the formalised carnival then became an official tradition and locals were compelled to honour this ‘tradition’ of theirs through their participation. As a result, the carnival, which “at one point generally judged as contrived or inauthentic [had], in the course of time, [became] generally recognized as authentic, even by experts” (Cohen, 1988 p. 379). Furthermore, by repeating the festival annually, it allows the carnival practice to become a fixture in the local calendar, thus increasing local’s exposure, sense of attachment and familiarity to the carnival. The repetitive occurrence of carnival is essential in creating a sense of loyalty in the locals. Overtime, the carnival has established its own new symbolic traditions by interweaving them with the old ones and ritualising the practice of the new set of traditions through repetition. The modern carnival, slowly introduces its own carnival songs and practises over the year, which are assimilated by the locals and incorporated in the celebration of the carnival. With this recurring reinforcement of the carnival spirit and celebration, the carnival slowly integrates itself with the identity of the locals. Presently, in the 160 carnival societies, there are a total of around 30,000 members (3% of Cologne’s population)2. This indicates high levels of committed local participation that sustains the ‘tradition’ of the Cologne carnival. On an informal level, families and friends engage in the preparation and celebration of the carnival together: dressing-up, visiting, and drinking. The highly social nature of the carnival further enables it to integrate into the local lives right from their childhood. The habitualised celebration slowly grew in authenticity as a symbiotic relationship is developed between the local culture and the carnival. The Koelsches3 had incorporated the carnival as an integral part of their local identity, authenticating the carnival as an event truly owned by the Koelsches.
2 3

2009 statistic from http://www.koelnerkarneval.de/colognecarnivalstudy.html Koelsches are those who were born in Cologne and are seen as the true locals. (cf. Koelners who are the people who simply live there)

Pan Pan Gong 2010 University of Melbourne3

Rather than being developed for tourism, the carnival is an event that belongs to the Koelsches and as the carnival becomes deeply embedded in the festive and cultural identity of Cologne, it naturally attracts visitors in seek of authentic experiences different from those of their own. This is a perfect example of an “emergent authenticity” (Cohen, 1988 p. 380), in which the invented tradition has become so deeply engrained in the local cultural landscape, that it eventually became a defining local identity capable of attracting high volume of visitors. The carnival embraces new practices and traditions which, although not part of the original carnival, were readily accepted into the carnival as part of its ‘authenticity’. Unlike most tourist-oriented festivals which are focused on creating an image for the public, the high local participation in the carnival organisation enables the carnival to incorporate strong local flavours and to remain relevant to the local community. Although the carnival adapts to the contemporary demands of locals throughout the years, such as the emergence of Women’s carnival4, children’s carnival5, alternative carnival6 and the ghost parade7, questioning of its authenticity by the public is minimal, because locals were engaged in these creations. On top of the newly invented practises in the carnival, the floats displaying the theme of that year usually pokes fun at some political or topical happening, or show some aspect of the town’s life, culture or industry (Fey, 1960 p. 50). Visitors do not need it to be “primitive *and+...untouched by modernity” to be convinced of its authenticity and its “absen*ce+ from *their+ own world” (Cohen, 1988 p. 374), since the Cologne carnival is a living cultural artefact in its own right, thus belonging to a world of the ‘Other’, a defining factor for its authenticity. Due to its draw as an authentic and new cultural experience, the carnival attracts loyal participants who visit the carnival site annually and religiously. The annual manifestation of the carnival as an alternate world of existence, turns Cologne into a “pilgrimage center” that is apart from ordinary settlements (Moore, 1980 p. 208) within which participants are ‘reborn’ into revellers. The carnival period is commonly known as the fifth season, during
4

Started in 1824 by a group of washerwoman, and the practise of cutting ties on this day was only introduced th later in the 19 Century (Cowell, 1996) 5 th Devised by entrepreneurs in the early 20 Century to encourage bourgeois parents, who would otherwise avoid carnivals due to safety, sanitation and moral concerns, to bring their children in joining the carnival celebration (Spencer, 1997) 6 An innovation by the young people in the 1980s (koeln.de) 7 Although a tradition in the Middle Ages, it was only revived in 1992 (koeln.de)

Pan Pan Gong 2010 University of Melbourne4

which the pubs and meeting rooms in Cologne and its nearby suburbs are filled with merry makers. With the concept of a special season dedicated to the carnival celebration, there is a sense of Otherness which removes the carnival from the actual world in which it takes place. Together with the symbolic wearing of costumes by the crowd and carnival songs which are only played during this period, the carnival evokes a certain form of “myth” which transforms it into a pilgrimage centre (Moore, 1980 p. 209). This myth lies in the existence of an alternate, illogical world amidst the real world. Visitors entering a mythical world “*separated+ from their ordinary lives” (Moore, 1980 p. 209), through ritual acts such as donning a costume or drinking a Koelsch8 beer, are transformed into a reveller at the carnival. The carnival procession is like a rite of passage, and visitors are like pilgrims who travel to the carnival site to experience the ritual of carnival. According to Victor Turner, the rites of passage is marked by first a detachment from the past state, then a liminal state of ambiguity, and finally the consummation of the passage (Turner, 2004 p. 79). The Rose Monday Parade is akin to a rite of passage, during which the revellers leave the real world behind to enter into the carnival world. On transforming into revellers, they enter into a liminal state in which they are stripped off any “social identity, neither what they once were, nor what they are about to become” (Moore, 1980 p. 210), and rejoice together in communitas of equal individuals (Turner, 2004 p. 80). In the world of the carnival parade, the structural barriers between different social classes are dissolved. As people don on their costumes, they take on a different identity in the carnival world which makes them indistinguishable from the other costume wearers. With the ambiguity in identity and the presence of individuals among large groups of strangers, equality in status is further enforced as everyone engages in the same activities of drinking and merry-making throughout the parade. As visitors flow into Cologne, embracing their new identity and going through the entire ritual of carnival, their pilgrimage is consummated with the ending of the fifth season on Ash Wednesday, marking the end of the “meta-pilgrimage” (Moore, 1980 p. 216). The

8

A brand of beer that is made in Cologne and viewed as part of the Cologne identity

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Cologne carnival thus builds its foreign popularity with enticement of its perceived authenticity and enchantment of its ritualised existence. Although the carnival has been well entrenched in Cologne culture, it faces certain issues with regards to its sustainability in the modern world marked by high mobility and abundance of choices among youths. As the world becomes increasingly globalised, the carnival clubs and organisation committee can no longer ignore the increasing numbers of Koelners9 who do not grow up with the carnival celebrations, thus the lack in a sense of affiliation to the festival. With an abundance of parties and entertainment available in the modern world, there is also a worrying trend of aging demographic in the carnival clubs, with a majority of its active members aged between 50 to 70 years old10. With less young people committed in maintaining the tradition, the carnival risks losing its local support and flavour as time goes on. While it would still be quite a while more before those wellestablished traditions and practices are forgotten, it is nevertheless an area not to be overlooked. After all, it is with high local participation and engagement that the Cologne carnival is able to be seen as an authentic tradition which attracts foreign visitors. For the carnival to continue thriving, it would need to continuously adapt itself to attract local youths into its organisation to maintain its authentic identity. The Cologne carnival successfully integrated into the lives of the Koelsches and transformed from a contrived tradition into an authentic tradition of the Rhineland. This was only possible with its identity as a continuation of a much longer tradition, right from the beginning of its organised formation. The traditional image imposed onto the modern carnival is the very essence which secures local engagement. By establishing the legitimacy of the modern carnival as an authentic traditional practice, the carnival could easily invent and create its own practices. Foreign visitors to the carnival would not have been attracted to make the pilgrimage journey, had it not been the fact that the carnival is a wellestablished tradition that is symbiotic to the local identity, thus an authentic myth worth discovering. The carnival needs to remain in a symbiotic relationship with the Koelsches, incorporating the Koelners in order to sustain the perceived authenticity of the tradition.

9

10

ibid note 3 Ibid note 2

Pan Pan Gong 2010 University of Melbourne6

Bibliography

Abbott, E. (2008) 'Transgressing Transgression: the Stunksitzung, Cologne Carnival's 'Alternative' Sitzung', Contemporary Theatre Review, 18 (1): 99-106. BCG Consulting Group (2009) Koelner Karneval website, http://www.koelnerkarneval.de/colognecarnivalstudy.html 25th May, 6th April 2010. Cohen, E. (1988) 'Authenticity and commiditization in tourism', Annuals of Tourism Research, 15: 371-386. Cowell, A. (1996) 'It's a Woman's World (And Men Pay Lip Service)', New York Times, 14th February: A4. Das Stadtportal fuer Koeln, koeln.de website, http://www.koeln.de/cologne_tourist_information/events/cologne_carnival/alternative_carnival, 6th April 2010. Festkomitee Koelner karneval von 1823, Koelner Karneval website, http://www.koelnerkarneval.de/94.html, 6th April 2010. Fey, G. (1960) 'Carnival in the Rhineland', Folklore, 71 (1) : 48-51. Hobsbawm, E. (1983) 'Mass Producing Traditions: Europe, 1870-1914', pp. 1-14; 263-273 and 303307 in The Invention of Tradition. Cambridge : Cambridge University Press. Moore, A. (1980) 'Walt Disney World: Bounded Ritual SPace and the Playful Pilgrimage Center', Anthropological Quarterly, 53 (4): 207-218. Spencer, E. G. (1997) 'Custom, Commerce, and Contention: Rhenish Carnival Celebrations, 18901914', German Studies Review, 20 (3): 323-341. Turner, V. (2004) 'Liminality and Communitas', pp. 79-87 in Bial Henry (ed) The Performance Studies Reader. New York : Routledge.

Pan Pan Gong 2010 University of Melbourne7

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