By Wendy Brown, Fort Bliss Garrison Public Affairs:
(El Paso, Texas, Feb. 15, 2018)
Before Wally Ivey left Germany for the United States, she remembers attending the Rosenmontag celebrations every year. There were costumes, music, parades and a general atmosphere of hilarity.
Thanks to the Germania Club in El Paso, made up largely of German women like Ivey who married U.S. Soldiers, she has been able to retain that sense of fun before the fasting of Lent.
“I’ve been here 40 years, and this brings back the memories,” Ivey said during the club’s Rosenmontag festivities at the Underwood Golf Complex’s Golden Tee Restaurant at Fort Bliss Monday. Ivey dressed as a 1920s flapper, but there was also a clown on hand, a racoon and a medieval maiden, among others.
Ivey and about 60 others gathered at the restaurant to dress in playful costumes, listen to Karneval music, have lunch, watch skits and maybe have a jelly donut in honor of President John F. Kennedy’s “Ich bin ein Berliner” gaff during a 1963 speech in Berlin. The German translation of Kennedy’s statement is, “I am a jelly donut,” and the club had three large boxes of them on hand for anyone who wanted one.
Angelika Greer said the club started in 1995, and members meet at the restaurant monthly for Schnitzel. Many of the members are widows of Vietnam-era service members, she said. They dedicated their lives to building a home in El Paso and volunteering for the community.
Greer said one reason she and others born in Germany enjoy El Paso is because of the large number of U.S. service members who have been stationed in Germany and are familiar with the country, as well as the presence of the German Air Force Air Defense Center.
The club’s monthly meeting helps members retain the German language and stay in touch with the culture of their homeland, Greer said. And Rosenmontag is definitely a part of that culture.
In Germany, Rosenmontag is a celebration before Ash Wednesday begins the Lenten season that leads up to Easter, Greer said. Often celebrated on Tuesday in the U.S. as Mardi Gras, in Germany people celebrate on “Rose Monday” with parades and parties.
Rosenmontag, however, is just one part of the Fasching or Karneval season, as Germans call it. In Germany, it starts at 11:11 a.m. Nov. 11, when women go to the mayor’s office and cut off the men’s ties.
“They take over ruling the city government for a day and they do everything and make it more fun,” Greer said.
Although the Fasching season, which ends at midnight on Shrove Tuesday, has a largely religious significance, it is also tied to the happiness of returning home from war, Greer said. In addition, it is a celebration for all the hardships people suffer throughout the year.
In Germany, people in the smallest towns and villages pride themselves on everyone participating in their Fasching celebrations, Greer said.
Ivey, from Grafenwoehr, said that’s how it was where she grew up.
“When I was a kid we always celebrated on Rosenmontag all day long,” Ivey said. “You went to the little restaurants and everybody was celebrating. I mean everybody.”
Gisela Powers, meanwhile, grew up in Mainz, a city famous for its large parades and floats that are political in nature. On Monday, she came dressed as a man who held a jug of wine and a glass (both contained grape juice).
“We watch the parade and have a good time,” Powers said of her memories of Mainz. “I’ve been here since 1981. We always celebrate here.”
And that’s when she broke into a song in German, “Am Rosenmontag Bin Ich Geboren.” In English it begins: “I was born on Rose Monday. On Rose Monday in Mainz on the Rhine. Until Ash Wednesday I’m lost, because the children of Rose Monday must act foolish …”