Held up at Gunpoint

The other day as I got of the train nearby our home, hands in my pockets, I rounded the corner and walked right into a standoff.

Two boys, around 7 years old, approached with bandana’s covering their mouths, and hands at their sides.  They were too fast for me, and drew their guns out of their holsters, and blasted me.  The smell of gunpowder was on the air as the midday sun shone down on all of us.

I had no chance.  The children during the Fasnet celebrations had got me.  The boys laughed and laughed, as their cap guns clacked away.  No horses to ride off on, but I was left alone and I soon heard in the distance the next unsuspecting victim being shot to smithereens.

I can’t remember the last time I saw a child’s toy cap gun in a store, but they flood the shelves at the department stores and village toy shops.  Costumes for young and old are for sale, and so begins the regional celebrations.  While Shrove Tuesday is a few days away still, the spirit of Mardi Gras is alive and well in some shape and form here in Freiburg.  Children take over their schools, groups of children raid the village and city halls.  The Roman Catholic priest wasn’t able to attend a recent meeting as he was detained by the children in his congregation as fun and havoc rules for a short time every year.


Each village has a particular style of clothing, and costume.  Some are expensive carved wooden masks depicting witches, or furred animals. The suits are old pieces of stitched on cloth,  pottery shards, or tiles. The partying can shut down offices, trains and trams as parades, and mockery take hold.  The spirit of carnival lasts for about a week, and then there is another celebration in Basel, Switzerland with its own customs and traditions.  And then there is the Alemannisch Fastnacht which offers another set of customs.  Some photos of the costumes can be found at the Black Forest Tourism Office.

I couldn’t possibly go into details about the richness of the various traditions, as many of the villages, groups and people have their own stories to tell.  It is however, an exciting time, full of fun, tradition and celebration.  There’s always a surprise waiting around the corner.

When Life Gives You Lemons

I’m not sure if there is an equivalent statement in German, but when life gives you lemons – make lemonade.

Now before you think that something bad has happened, I can set your mind at ease by saying that the exact opposite is true.  This morning we went to the church to help set up toys for the children who come with their mothers from the refugee area.  The church puts on a weekly activity for the women and their children which I think benefits everyone.  Feeling sensitive to being the only male around I headed out into town in search of an outfit for one of our daughters who, along with her classmates, will be in a Fastnach parade.  “What is Fastnach?”, you say.  Well, good question.  It seems that in each area it can be celebrated in different ways, with days of parades and candy being given out to children.  Everyone gets dressed up, much like a North American Halloween.

While looking for a very specific costume (that looks like old fashioned pyjamas) for said daughter a small group of people came up to me in the centre of the Munsterplatz and said (in German and some English) that they were music students from Italy on a special class. As part of their sightseeing they were given some strange tasks to interact with the locals.  One student held out a lemon and asked if I would trade something of mine for the lemon, but that it couldn’t be cash.  The goal was to see which group got the most expensive object in exchange.  So what did I give them? I had a German stamp in my wallet worth 0,45 Euro.  In our exchange I found out that the students spoke more English than German, and in some cases, they were native English speakers studying in Italy.  So for a lemon that cost me 45 cents I also gave them out some of my business cards and told them about the Anglican Church in Freiburg.  The students are here for only a short time, but they do stay over the weekend, so maybe I shall see them in church on Sunday.

So next time when someone gives you a lemon, make lemonade…and invite them to church.