Altweiber Tradition in the Days of #MeToo

Altweiber Custom in Germany

Altweiber Custom in Germany, © Airman st Class Luke KittermanReleased

11.01.2019 - Article

The German Altweiber tradition hails from an era in which women had fewer rights than today. In today’s discussion about #MeToo appropriate inter-gender behaviour, this seems oddly out of place and time, and you do wonder if this tradition is still relevant?

February 28th marks the start of street carnival all over Germany. It’s the Thursday before Ash Wednesday and it is called Weiberfastnacht or Altweiber (Women’s Carnival Day) which means that women will take over this day. In towns along the Rhine like Mainz, Cologne and Dusseldorf, women are officially taking the keys to the city’s Town Hall by the lord mayor. This procedure means to symbolize that women have free reign for the day. The tradition dates back to 1824, when a group of laundry women, fed up with cleaning their husbands’ dirty shirts, while they could have gone to celebrate carnival in nearby Cologne founded the “Beuel Ladies’ Committee”. They stormed the town hall of Bonn-Beuel (a small community in Germany’s former capital Bonn) to take over the government for the day. Today, women still take over the government of cities in North Rhine Westphalia on Weiberfastnacht. A very symbolic custom of this day is for women to snip off men’s ties with a sharp pair of scissors. By doing this, they are taking away male authority and power for the day. If the man complies, he gets a “Bützchen” (a kiss) as a treat. This tradition hails from an era in which women had much fewer rights than today. At that time, women did not even have the right to vote and there has never been a female mayor. In today’s discussion about #MeToo appropriate inter-gender behaviour, this tradition seems oddly out of place and time, and you do wonder if ist still relevant?  In today’s municipal, provincial and federal governments women are in power; so who are women challenging in this case at Weiberfastnacht? Latest with #MeToo movement women’s carnival has gotten a new perspective. Some carnival events and performances are bringing debates regarding gender power and sexism into their celebrations while on the other hand many carnival enthusiasts in the Rhineland like to hold on to these traditions. Women have come a long way to fight for their rights and for equality, and the “Beuel Ladies’ Committee” was one of many achievements to fight for equality – and be it by cutting off ties. 

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