Political Ash Wednesday in Germany

Source: 66Media for Tumblr

It’s a typical day in Berlin. Specifically, in the Reichstag Building at Brandenburg Gate. Politicians from both sides of the spectrum- the ruling coalition on one hand and the opposition on the other- convene to discuss (and dispute) laws and regulations designed to keep people safe and regulate businesses to make Germany a better and more attractive place for residents and visitors. There are some critiques and sometimes political insults- especially against the right-winged Alternative for Germany (AfD). But nonetheless, business is professional and the laws are passed or rejected without much fanfare.

That is unless it’s Ash Wednesday and you find yourself in Bavaria.

Every year, each political party to their quarters in Bavaria. There, the boxing gloves go on, the beer is flowing from the barrels, the crowds go wild and each of the prominent politicians have at it on the mikes- free-wheeling insults thrown at other political parties and certain people, complaining about the problems that Germany is facing and trying to rile up a jam-packed audience who in the end jeers, boos and hollars at them, while holding up the beer steins, the beer filled to the brim and spilling over.

Every year since 1946, Germany has held its annual Political Ash Wednesday rallies, where parties gather to Bavaria to unload their frustrations that had been brewing for the past 364 days. Yet the origin of this event goes a lot further back- specifically, the 16th century.  In 1580, farmers convened on this day to the market square Rossmarkt in Vilshofen/Danube to discuss and complain about the current events and other items affecting their business. The politics of Bavaria and later the German empire were added to the mix in the 19th century. Adolf Hitler and his National Socialist Party (NSDAP) used this day to convey his message of a pure Germany, which garnered thousands of supporters and paved the way to his claiming power in 1933. He kept the tradition until World War II broke out.

After the war, the tradition was revived in 1946 and in the same city as in the past. For the first six years, the Bavarian Party (BP) was the only party that kept to its original tradition, yet in 1952, the Christian Socialists (CSU) joined the fray as an attempt to steal away supporters from the BP. The Social Democrats joined the rally in 1965 with their own agenda, but being held at Wolfersretterkeller in Vilshofen. As of today, eleven parties have held this traditional rally in Bavaria but in different cities:

Free Democrats (FDP): Joseph-von-Fraunhofer-Halle in Straubing

Green Party: Landshut

Left-wing party „Die Linke”: Passau

Ökologische Partei (ÖDP): Passau

Republican: Geissenhausen

Pirate Party: Straubing

AfD: Osterhofen

The CSU has held their rally at Dreiländerhalle in Passau since 2004 as it can hold up to 6000 guests. Passau has become the main attraction for the rallies for half the parties have met there to express their colorful views to their delegates and supporters.

However, the Political Ash Wednesday events can also be found on the national level. For the past two decades, one can find such events in Apolda (Thuringia), Marne (Schleswig-Holstein), Volksmarsen (Hesse), Fellbach (Baden-Württemberg), Recke (NRW), Demmin (MV), Biberach an der Riss (BW) and Wallerfangen (Saarland). Biberach is the meeting point for the Greens and Wallerfangen for the Linke. The Christian Democrats (CDU) have held such events in more than one of the aforementioned cities.

If there is a comparison for Political Ash Wednesday, one could do so with the Presidential Campaign in the United States in general. We mustn’t add Donald Trump in the mix for he is the “krassest” of examples for political insults and making fun of people in the most degrading fashion. Subtracting him, the Presidential Campaign does not include the beer but it does include complaining about the situation affecting the country and playing down the other candidates’ promises of making it better for everyone. It does include strong messages that arouses the masses and encourages them to support their candidates. For the political rally in Germany on this special day, it solely has to do with addressing the problems and the “problem children,” which strengthens the German (and to a certain degree, European) stereotype of complaining, daily, profusely and professionally. It makes a complaining choir sound like a discord, especially if one has too much to drink.

If one needs an idea how a Political Ash Wednesday works, have a look at a couple examples for you to listen to. Examine their views, their facial reactions and gestures and the crowds that roar over the events.

Then look at a typical US Presidential Campaign Rally:

And then look at Donald Trump:

If there is one thing that they have in common, it’s in connection with the  GIF-pic at the beginning of the article. It had been originally been planned to beused to talk about Hamburg’s governmental elections and the successful attempts to solidify the existence of the SPD and Greens and the (near) ouster of the FDP and AfD in response to the scandal in Thuringia. Then after watching the speeches on this Ash Wednesday, it came to this commonality that is typical of politics in general: Politicians may be the biggest role model for the public and they debate on laws that are supposed to help people. They are the ones that hold the torch. Yet on a day, like Ash Wednesday, they go unplugged, strip down, and show their teeth, bashing anyone trying to dethrone them.

If Ash Wednesday is the day for using the witty tongue and creative insults, they come but once a year in politics.  This means we don’t need a day for bitching and complaining, unless you are the typical German politician who holds it in until this special day, then lets loose over a stein of beer. Since we have this, Bavaria will forever be in the minds of many who use this day to unwind and unload.

And with that, raise your beer steins and “Prost!”

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The Bavarian Party, which re-established the Political Ash Wednesday Rallies, still exists as a party. Yet unlike its heyday in the 1940s, when it garnered 21% of the votes and rivaled the Christian Socialists (CSU), it has averaged only 2% of the votes since the 1970s. Today only three districts are controlled by the BP. Its main platform is an independent Bavaria as a country and not part of Germany. This has been rejected by the CSU and other parties.

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