Grafenwoehr Students celebrate Fasching traditions
February 27, 2012
GRAFENWOEHR, Germany -- This year, students at U.S. Army Garrison Grafenwoehr didn't have to travel to Venice, Brazil or New Orleans to experience Carnival. On Feb. 21, they created their own revelry of costumes and parades in honor of this colorful tradition.
Many cultures commemorate Mardi Gras, or "Fat Tuesday." Devised as one last hurrah before the Catholic population would settle into Lent's 40 days of abstention, citizens fete with parades, costumes and special delicacies.
In Germany, these festivities are known as Fasching. The event is celebrated most heartily in Cologne, but also in Bavarian towns around the Army community here.
Grafenwoehr and Netzaberg elementary students have celebrated Fasching for seven years as part of their curriculum. This year, however, Netzaberg students blended host-nation and international traditions with American pride and branded this year's parade as "We Salute America."
The man credited for bringing Fasching to DODDS Europe schools is David Simms, a New Orleans native and a self-proclaimed "Mardi Gras person." Now a fifth-grade teacher at Netzaberg Elementary, Simms chose this year's American theme out of sympathy for our nation's current hard times.
"With the economy and the difficulties that people are having, we thought it would be a good year to support the home country and salute the flag," he explained.
To keep with this theme, each grade level in Netzaberg represented a different facet of American culture. Simms' fifth-grade class personified American singers. Most kids dressed up as singers they know, like Rihanna, Katy Perry and Justin Bieber. One bouffanted and guitar-slinging student went old school and came as Elvis.
According to Lilli Frazier, a fifth-grader who embodied Pink, her classmates did more than just dress up as musicians, they became them.
"We're embracing our characters," she said. "We're being our characters, singing their songs."
Other classes adhered closely to the DODDS curriculum when choosing their themes.
One third-grade class took on the roles of famous Americans. Camille Johnson, 9, was handpicked to play Sojourner Truth, who she liked for her bravery.
"I liked the way that when her master said she couldn't leave her house, she just walked away," said Johnson of the famous orator and abolitionist.
Students did more than simply dress as someone or something famous, they also studied their subjects.
Sandee Roberts, a third-grade teacher explained that their mission was to teach students America's history and culture, while still having fun and enjoying German traditions.
"The parade's a culmination of several weeks of learning the contributions of America," she said.
Down the road, Grafenwoehr Elementary held its own Fasching parade. There, students also studied the tradition of Fasching in the weeks leading up to the parade, finally getting to join in on the fun for their final lesson.
The Musikschule of Pressath-Grafenwoehr kicked off the parade with traditional Carnival music, while Grafenwoehr Mayor Helmut Waechter and Kathy Aydt, the deputy garrison commander, marched along.
More than 300 students donned super hero and princess costumes as they marched for nearly an hour with signs and festive balloons, waving both German and American flags proudly.
Netzaberg's Host Nation Studies teacher Nanuela Bercosh brought life to the students' education of Fasching. For weeks, the children learned the history and traditions of Fasching, stretching back to ancient German tribes dressing up to scare off evil spirits.
Bercosh, dressed as the Statue of Liberty, spoke animatedly of making anime and clown masks with her students. She even encouraged her female students to cut off the male teachers' ties on the previous Thursday, as per Fasching tradition. Bercosh pre-warned her male colleagues to wear old ties that day.
Both schools' parades also honored Soldiers of the 172nd Infantry Brigade. At Netzaberg, Spc. Chris Dodson, Delta 1-2, volunteered to join the school's parade to get out and see something new. But, he also wanted to be there for the students.
"When I was a kid," said Dodson, "I wish someone had done something like this for me."
Editor's Note: Molly Hayden, assistant editor of the Bavarian News, contributed reporting.