Robert Pimm

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A flaming end to Carnival and winter’s woes

By Robert Pimm, Globe Correspondent

Boston Globe, February 5 2006

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Carnival crowds are colourful and well-wrapped – Photo RP

COLOGNE, Germany — At midnight the first figure is dragged out. It’s a man in blue overalls, his glistening pink features frozen in surprise.

”There he is!” someone shouts. ”Kill him!”

Four men haul the figure onto their shoulders and begin pushing through the crowd to a background of ominous drumming. Ahead, a stage has been set for a trial: The judge waits in a top hat, his face a mask of white, a tear dripping from one eye. An incinerator stands ready. A macabre miscarriage of justice seems to loom.

But wait. The drummers are dressed as chickens. The crowd is thick with clowns in orange wigs. And when the victim’s shoes fall off, we see his feet are made of straw. The good news is, no people will be burned tonight. The bad news is, things are not looking rosy for our straw friend. Welcome to the Nubbelverbrennung (burning of the Nubbel), the last, wild night of the Cologne Carnival.

Carnival in Germany has its origins in pagan rituals to drive out the winter. Over the intervening 2,000 years, things have become less secular, and more organized. Carnival has come to represent a final burst of excess before Lent, which this year begins March 1.

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