Prunksitzung: In Hindsight

Prunksitzung! Quoi?, you may wonder.

I wondered, too, although my wonderment was more English.

A few weeks back, in the car of the family whose oldest son I tutor, waiting for the mother to come back from dropping her costume off at the tailor’s (conversation translated into English for your convenience)

Me: …Costume?
Son: It’s for the Prunksitzung in a week.
Me: Aah. Wait, the what?
Son: Prunksitzung.
Me: ...The what?
Son: Prunksitzung!
Me: What-sitzung!? What’s that?
Son: Prunksitzung?...P-r-u-n-k–s-i-t-z-u-n-g.
Me: *blank stare, then whines in English* I don’t get it.
Son: Um…
Me: How is it spelled?
Son: Uh, P, R, U… No, wait, maybe it’s with a B?
Me: Hah! You don’t even know!
Son: *laughing and trying to cover up the fact that he can’t spell in his own language*
Me: What is it? What goes on there?
Son: Well…you go all dressed up in a costume, people get on the stage and do skits, funny stuff…
Me: *does not know, at this point, what the German word for stage is, so as far as I’m concerned there are funny people getting on something and making the audience laugh* Okay…
Son: Everyone’s in costumes, it’s like a satire thing. Clowns, for example!
Me: *shudders* I hate clowns.
Son: You eat, sing, drink…
*the Mother returns to car*
Son: I’m trying to explain Prunksitzung to her.
Mother: Ooh! It’s so much fun!! *proceeds to more or less repeat what the son has said* It’s great! What’s that one song?
Son: Oh yeah!
Mother and Son: *break into song – NOTE; this is not the first time they have broken out into song in my presence*
Me: *laughing, more or less nervously, and in confusion*
Mother: Oooh, you should come, do you want to go with!?
Me: I suppose I-
Mother: Great! I have to ask and see if I can get an extra ticket, though. But if I get it, you’re coming. If I don’t get it… well, you’re coming with us to the parade on the 28th anyway. It’s something you have to see – you’re in Germany! Every year we go to the parade and afterwards visit a friend and eat Berliner and drink champagne. It’s great!
Me: …Berliner…and champagne? That’s…an interesting combination.
Mother: It’s tradition! You’re coming. *NOTE: I had little say in the matter*

So February 18th I was picked up by the mother and youngest son and brought back to their house. There I was convinced by the Mother (who had been wearing her Greek Goddess costume since noon when she had gone to the hairdresser’s), to dress like something between a bloated pirate (red is not my color) and a gypsy:

You can’t see it, but my pants were rolled up over my boots. That was my personal touch. All in all I felt more like a dejected child than a pirate-gypsy. Glass of champagne, finished the costumes, and then the Mother, the younger son, and I (the one I tutor stayed at home) left for house #2, where I met some more people I won’t see ever again (Hermann, his 30-something-year old daughter and her boyfriend), the only exception being Hermann, a (seemingly) wealthy man (his house is filled with countless old collectibles) who turned out to be the sponsor of the Arzheim Prunksitzung. The tutoring family’s younger son was employed to “kid-sit” (as he put it; very PC) who turned out to be Hermann’s godson. I thought the kid was the grandson. Hermann’s daughter, after being introduced to me, looked at me kind of odd and said, “Um, do you…speak only English?” I told her “no”, that I also spoke German. “Oh good.” She sounded too relieved.

Another glass of champagne and more people who I’ll never see again showed up (one of the men was dressed like a monk, but looked more like a really jolly Jedi – the Mother came and whispered to me if I’d understand her if she told me he was a “Frauenarzt” – I did. A Frauenarzt is a gynecologist. I had a temporary “I think my appendix is/ovaries are infected” scare in November and quickly learned all necessary words and terms in case I ended up needing to call the police to take me to a hospital. Everyone else I know was gone that weekend so what can I say, I panicked). These new people, who did NOT appear as a direct result of another glass of champagne, put on hats or wigs – the extent of their costumes (at least Hermann was in a tux with old school coattails and a hot pink top hat, his daughter a conservative Playboy Bunny, her boyfriend a cowboy). We then headed off to the Prunksitzung.

I’ll make another note here that at this point I had been several times introduced to others as Kaija, an exchange student from the US and Nico’s English tutor – I was (and would be throughout the night) referred to as a very lovely, nice person/tutor, whom the Mother was very grateful and lucky to have found. If that’s not a validation of the positive and likeable quality of my character, I don’t know what is.

The Prunksitzung was held in what I understood to be a kind of community centre. The inside looked like this:

Once the program started it looked like this:

and this

The theme of the evening was “Fiesta Mexico.” Don’t ask, ‘cause I don’t know. We took our seats, unfortunately toward the back of the hall, made the rounds of introducing me to the surrounding people.

After 30 minutes or so it became clearer to me what was going on. Prunksitzung is basically Halloween minus the scary costumes, themes, pranks, etc. It’s another hooplah-crazy holiday tailor-made for eating typically delicious German sandwiches and drinking any and everything put before you. Prunksitzung is part of the Fasching carnival thing, which takes place the last week to two weeks before Lent. Get your party on now before you have to give it up for 40 days, friends! For more information on Fasching go here: What is Fasching?"

During the program, which lasted probably more than two hours, there were skits upon skits. They were funny things I mostly didn’t understand (since it was all in very strong Pfalzisch dialect, I got context 100% thanks to costumes and actors, but only about 50% of actual words), but it was enjoyable nonetheless. My two personal favorites were the children dressed as crocodiles dancing to the “Schnappi” song, and the “Arzheim Männer Ballet” which was… different, wordless, and hilarious. There were maybe 10 men dressed as monks (candle carrying, too!) who walked to the stage during an interlude of Gregorian chant music. Once on stage and with their backs to the audience, the music died down and they proceeded to whip off the monk robes, revealing the fact that they were all dressed in tight, black, half-fishnet material dancer shirts, and white and black camo hot pants. They then danced. Like a chorus line. They got an encore, and I laughed like I hadn’t laughed yet that day.

From monks....

...to glory!

Drinks were standard: Weinschörle (wine + mineral water), Sekt-orange (champagne and orange juice), red wine, and other stuff. The most fun by far, was what was that night named the “Mexiko Rodell” – twenty 20ml bottles of random liquors (ex. fig vodka, plum liquor, cream liquor and whiskey). €15,- of table pounding, liquor shot, traditional fun. Here are some diagrams created a few days ago, reinacting one of the (traditional) ways to drink such a bottle:

Step 1: Kindly accept the bottle of whatever it is they (in my case the tutoring family Mother) offer to you.

Step 2: Inspect the bottle, because you have no idea what’s going on. If the picture of the Red Neck on the label sitting next to a representative fruit icon doesn’t tip you off, ask what it is and it will be explained.

Step 3: Figure “what the heck, this may be the first and last time you get to experience a real Prunksitzung” and open the bottle. Note: Before opening the bottle you have to bang it on the table a couple of times. Don’t ask, ‘cause I don’t know. Neither did the Mother. She said it’s just something that’s done.

Step 4: Be instructed that it is essential to put the cap of the bottle on your nose in order to drink. It’s great to see everyone within 5 people of you (in my case people mostly 50+, minus the Mother, Hermann’s daughter and boyfriend, and myself) doing the same.

Step 5: Make sure the cap is secured. Really secured. You don’t want to screw up on your first go. Because then not only are you a foreigner, but you’re an inept foreigner.

Step 6: Once Step 5 is accomplished, you’re ready to drink.

Step 7: I ended up using holding the bottle, but there is the option of not using your hands. As you can see from the diagram, I look like an idiot. But that’s because I’m the only one in the picture. With everyone else doing the same, it doesn’t look as stupid. Seriously.

Step 8: Realize that you’ve just downed a shot of pretty harsh tasting plum liquor. Be kind of laughed for the face you make.

Step 9: Catch your breath and try to forget the plumy taste. Contemplate whether or not to accept a second bottle of stuff.

Step 10: Glady accept a second bottle of stuff. Repeat process.

The second time around I got fig vodka (or here, vodka with fig taste). I had tried this stuff once before when I bought an interesting little bottle of it at the supermarket. The label was black, lavender, and green, with white googly eyes. I had to have it. The amusing part was that the second bottle I had was good, and the Mother got some whiskey mixture that apparently was not, because she pulled a face much like the one in Step 8’s diagram. It was my turn to laugh. Then there was a short pause before we both agreed (simultaneously) that the vodka with fig was better. Then we giggled like high schoolers (I don’t know if there’s a German equivalent of “Jinx!!”).

For those wondering, I did not drink myself into oblivion. Even had I wanted to, I think it would have been awkward. It was strange enough being invited to the event by the Mother of the kid to whom I give English lessons, much less drinking with her.

By the end of the skits and performances (which the Mother said were disappointingly not as good as the ones in the previous years), the whole thing turned into one big conga-line, myself involved in one leg of it. Eventually I was able to break off and sit with the smoke burning my eyes and music hurting my ears (sitting near the back has its drawbacks – speakers right by you) while the Mother went to dance some more. Around 12.30 or so we made our way back to the house (Arzheim is small, it’s a 5 minute walk from the community centre to the house) where it was planned for me to spend the night on the couch, because the Mother wasn’t planning on driving after celebrating.

The next morning we woke up after sleeping late and had a nice, simple Brötchen and condiment breakfast. Afterwards the Mother and I watched TV for a bit (some animal show) before heading to…Ilbesheim, I think… to take a walk with their dog, Genna. The sons went to play soccer, and the Mother and I left. Whatever town we were in, it was beautiful. Typical small German suburb, architecture, scenery, all of it. We walked up to the top point of the town to a Weinstübl (=little restaurant thing) and had a light lunch of what I only later realized to be split pea soup (I knew it was Erbsensuppe/ pea soup, but it sounds more simple and more appetizing in German, so I think that’s why I was thrown). Then we walked back down to the car and I was driven home.

The Mother offered to take me with to the Prunksitzung at the Bethesda, which is, as far as I understand, a mini campus mixture of a hospital, a retirement home, a facility for disabled and handicapped persons, and other such things. I declined, not wanting to overstay my welcome, but was told the next day (on the way to tutoring, also known as the third day in a row I had seen them – my reason for not wanting to push it, even though the Mother made it very clear I was doing anything but) that I should have gone, because it was apparently better than the Arzheim Prunksitzung. There had been “hired professionals” from the Landau Prunksitzung who came to perform for the elderly and disabled.

Prunksitzung accomplished! Now the only problem is that some of the ERASMUS people now and then refer to me as “Pirate.” News travels fast between us…