When our family moved to Germany in July we noticed a strange “flagpole with feathers” thing hanging in each small town. We shrugged our shoulders and said “wonder what that thing is for?”.
Fast forward a few months the word “Kerwe”, pronounced “care va”, popping up all over the place. You see signs posted everywhere, banners on the main streets leading into the town, advertisements in the local newspapers. It turns out that a tradition in all of Germany, but especially the southwestern part, is a late summer or fall village festival. In Rhineland-Pfalz, this is called the Kerwe, and it can go by a dozen other names in other locations (Kirb, Notch, etc). When researching the term Kerwe you may not find much, so we found out firsthand ourselves.
Friday evening was Rhineland Pfalz dinner night, with fresh Bratwurst, Liver Dumplings, and Saumagen. My wife Sarah, 8 month old daughter Indiana, and I show up at 6:30 to a relatively empty tent lined with picnic tables. Pretty low key, right? There is a stage, bar, and food counter. No big deal. Our neighbors wave over to us to sit with them. We help ourselves to German food and apfelschorle while the place fills up quickly, very quickly, very very quickly. By 7:30 there are no seats! Keep in mind that our entire town is only a few hundred people, and probably every one of them is at tonight’s dinner, except for the other Americans in town. We politely asked our 13 year old neighbor if he saw any other “visitors” and he looked around and said, “um, Nope. You are the only ones”, with a big smile!
After two months in our town we have started to recognize people – the man, Otto, who fixed our cabinets, the man from the utility company- Pfalzwerke, our neighbor, Inga, from across the street. We meet more people that night and start to connect the dots within the town. Our daughter is loving every minute and and is facinated by stimulation. Whenever there is German spoken she just looks all “big eyed” and takes it all in. It is noisy, fun, and exciting. There are periodic chants and cheers. The music comes on – it is a small brass band from Sembach and they are playing the traditional Oktoberfest german music. People are dancing, drinking, talking, and having a nice time.
We took Saturday off but the town did not. There was another night of dinner, drinking, dancing. As we understood it, this was the “adult” night with lots of dancing. One couple joked that we should get a babysitter and dance the night a way. Next year we just might!
Sunday was the culmination of the Kerwe with a parade and traditional ceremony planned. We had heard about coffee and cake starting at noon in the town square, but after arriving we realized this was to happen later in the afternoon. Of course, people were already gathered and having lunch in the Zelt, or tent. Our town, Sulzbachtal, calls their festival a Zeltkerwe, or Tent-kerwe. On the way home we noticed the Straußjugend all on the back of a truck with the feather pole!! The official name is the Kerwestrauß (pronounced care – va – strauss), and we found out that it is made by the young people of the town, the Straußjugend, (late teenagers) in the weeks leading up to the Kerwe. The colors of the Kerwestrauß can vary from year to year. The only thing we could find out is that they are tied to the theme. The Straußjugend we wearing matching T-shirts with the same colors- blue and green this year, with each person’s name on their sleeve. On the front was a picture of Bart Simpson with a funny expression about drinking and memory loss.
We drove back home and parked before the parade was about to begin. We then walked two blocks down the hill and took a spot along the Ortstrasse and to watch the floats come by. There were the firefighters, teachers and schoolkids, tree people, nature/trail people, and finally the Straußjugend with the Kerwestrauß (pronounced care – va – strauss). Everyone was handing out something – candy mostly, and we stuffed our pockets full of treats.
We joined in the parade and made the 3/4 mile trip from Obersulzbach to Untersulzbach. Once in the town square, the traditional ceremony began by raising the Kerwestrauß up onto the Bürgerhaus. The lead Straußjugend (wearing a large black tophat) officiated the ceremony, telling stories about the townspeople throughout the year. I picked up bits and pieces of the stories…it snowed, there were dark nights, the dogs were loud. All of a sudden “who let the dogs out” was playing over the speakers. People were chanting, singing and laughing. It sort of felt like a college football game, except in a different country and in a different language.
More food, drink, and music followed the rest of that Sunday. On Monday they even have off schools, part of the Kerwe recovery process. It rained that day, like it has much of September, and the colors of the Kerwestrauß started to bleed. Another mystery solved…this is how they turn white. For awhile I was not sure why some were white and others not! Another year until the next Kerwe for our town, but no fear, for if you love these types of festivals there are more in other towns. Olsbrucken, to our north, has theirs in the beginning of October. Perhaps more to follow…