Sunday, May 30, 2004

Pfingsten, and the Pfun Begins

Today is Pfingsten, Germany's sneakiest holiday, because there's no advance warning. It's also known as Pentecost or Whitsun elsewhere, and it's a much bigger deal in some parts of Europe than it ever was back in the States, although I'm told it's not, surprisingly, celebrated in Italy.

Here in Berlin, it's just another occasion to leave work at noon on Friday and head out of town to your country place, or, if the weather's good enough, up to the Baltic coast, which is only a couple hours' drive away. I sincerely think that my neighbors only own cars for weekends like this, since you never see them move any other time. More importantly, it's the official beginning of summer. Germans need official beginnings and ends: we won't see any more asparagus for sale, for instance, after June 25. I'm sure it'll be poking out of the ground, but that's The End of Spargelzeit, and you don't see it until next May.

Pfingsten is also the Karneval der Kulturen, a particularly embarrassing Berlin institution. It started in 1997, when a number of foreigners' cultural organizations, dance schools, German-whatever Friendship Leagues, and so on, decided to put on a parade, with various events in the evening. The first one, which I attended with my friend Andrea (who, coincidentally, is arriving from London tonight -- she's one of many who've fled), was very cool. I remember a bunch of Trinidadians in full Carnival regalia, Poles with a brass band, a lady selling Mexican tamales as she walked along beside the Mexican float, Tunisians, Sierra Leonians, and even a few Turks overcoming their usual reticence and mistrust of German institutions. It was so much fun that Andrea and I did it again the next year, when it was much, much bigger -- and really different.

It took us a while to figure it out, but finally it dawned on us: all the participants, or at least the overwhelming majority, were Germans. Germans doing salsa dancing, Germans doing flamenco, Germans playing digideroos, Germans doing tai chi, Germans banging cluelessly on African drums...Germans, in short, doing something very typical: immersing themselves in another culture so completely that, with a little luck, they could forget, even for a moment, that they're German.

This is a major obsession with the intelligentsia here, or else what could explain the relentless travelling, the sponsoring not only of events like the Karneval der Kulturen, but Radio Multi-Kulti (at which Americans have always been explicitly unwelcome), and the House of World Cultures (Haus der Kulturen der Welt) with its months-long programs devoted to one or another country or group of countries. Not to forget Heimatklänge, the multi-week world music fest, arranged around a theme and often accompanied by workshops where Berliners can go learn dances or instrumental techniques from the performers. Identifying with Berlin, or with Germany, is Not Done: it's "right-wing." Or so I was told early on by the Music Director of Radio Multi-Kulti, who also stiffed me a month's salary because he hated Americans. We sat by and did nothing, he told me, while our country destroyed Vietnam. None of us really remembered it that way, but it wasn't like he was interested in discussing it.

Anyway, I stay away from the world music crowd these days, and I stay away from the Karneval der Kulturen. This evening, though, I am going to participate in what must be a satellite event: Pflegeallerassen, it's called, "Protect All Races," although I see in the dictionary that there are times, like in horse breeding, that the word can also apply to animals. Anyway, some odd woman called me a couple of months ago to ask if I'd like to recreate one of my old JazzRadio shows for a few hours and get paid for it, and those last four words pretty much forced the issue. So I got down my famous "funky black bag" and stuffed it with some '50s and '60s jazz CDs and I'll go down to Monbijoustr. at about 7:30. They haven't told me when I go on, or for how long, but they did tell me there'd be vegetarian chili to eat.

The very idea of German-made vegetarian chili...

No, I won't go into that now. Happy Pfingsten, y'all. More later.


Anonymous said...

HELLO!! how are you? I am a descendant of the name Pfingston, which was Pfingsten in it's original spelling. You are right about one thing: they don't celebrate Pfingsten in the states but aparently it's a holiday in Germany and Europe?! I've not been able to find a German to explain, in detail, what the celebration is all about but i know it has something to do with Easter and the Pentecost lol

Anonymous said...

I googled "what is pfingsten" and I got your comments. I found them very hilarious nad interesting also informative (Typical serious German habit). I am an "Auslandsdeutscher". I have been to Berlin recently and can just see all the Pfun going on. Keep it up.