Parades Poke Fun at Euro Crisis German Carnival Hails Merkel as Europe's Savior

Most of Europe is in the grip of the debt crisis, but Germany is getting ready to party. The satirical parade floats that are a fixture of its carnival festivities leave no doubt about who's in charge of the troubled continent. One features Chancellor Angela Merkel at the bow of the SS Europa about to hit an iceberg.

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It's a romantic image tainted by impending doom -- Angela Merkel and Nicolas Sarkozy canoodling in a Titanic-style pose on the bow of the good ship "Europa," about to strike a Greek iceberg and being grasped by an evil ratings agency octopus.

The three-dimensional cartoon made of wood and papier-maché will be driven through the streets of Cologne on Monday, or rather Rose Monday, as part of Germany's biggest carnival parade.

While much of Europe is languishing in recession, Germany is about to have a massive week-long fancy dress party that will bring half the nation to a standstill from this Thursday, Old Wives' Day, when men will get their ties cut off in symbolic castration, until Ash Wednesday, when revellers will emerge from a week of flirting and drinking to start rebuilding their lives and their livers.

Europe's paymaster can afford to take time out because it has been cruising through the crisis, to the quiet annoyance of its neighbors, and is likely to be spared the downturn plaguing Greece, Spain, Portugal and other nations.

The debt turmoil is one of the top themes, yet again, in the main carnival processions in Cologne, Düsseldorf and Mainz, which draw millions onto the streets and are famous for their topical satirical floats. This year, though, with Germany thrust even more prominently into the role of savior, the float designers are portraying Merkel as undisputed leader of the continent.

In Düsseldorf, the chancellor will be shown as the engine driver of a "Europe Express" train, several of whose carriages are ablaze. In Mainz, she will be in charge of "Angie's Umbrella Shop," handing out umbrellas to half of Europe, with the desperate Greeks, Spanish and Portuguese waiting in line. Rettungsschirm, or "rescue umbrella," is the German term used to describe the euro bailouts.

Going Easy on Greece

The Greeks are spared a separate ribbing, though, after having been lampooned and vilified in Germany ever since the crisis erupted in Greece in early 2010. "You shouldn't kick someone when they're down," Jacques Tilly, one of Germany's top float designers, told SPIEGEL ONLINE. "The Greeks are a tragedy rather than a comedy at the moment, so we won't be having an anti-Greek float."

Unlike the Cologne and Düsseldorf parade organizers, Tilly, who designs half the floats in the Düsseldorf procession and is famed for his irreverence, has refused to allow a glimpse of his creations. They won't be seen until they hit the streets on Monday.

"Given the anti-German sentiment raging in Greece at the moment, it's tempting to come up with some sort of response," said Tilly. "But then we'd be playing nationalistic games. We'd be back in 1914. Who wants that?"

Many Greeks are blaming Merkel for their woes because of her insistence on austerity in return for international aid. Photo montages of her in a Nazi uniform have appeared in Greek newspapers and on protest placards, and the German flag has been burned at demonstrations. But Germany's carnival organizers are turning a blind eye, not least because they're bored with bashing Greece.

"Greece is so worn out as a theme that we decided not to do it again this time," the head of the Cologne parade, Christoph Kuckelkorn, an undertaker by trade, told SPIEGEL ONLINE. "We didn't have a problem finding a fresh approach to the euro crisis, though. Hundreds of people sent us designs for all kinds of floats. This year we have four that were designed by children."

A Bunny on a Butcher's Bench

One float in Cologne will show three wise men in the form of a Chinaman, an Indian and a Brazilian bearing gifts of cash for the sickly baby euro in its manger. One in Mainz shows the rating agencies as naughty boys with slingshots taking aim at the currency.

President Christian Wulff, under pressure to resign for accepting discounts, airline upgrades and free vacations with rich acquaintances, is a popular theme this year, but some of the floats are portraying him as a victim more than a culprit.

Cologne will show him in a rabbit costume on a butcher's bench, about to be carved up, while Mainz will have him slumped on the ground in a boxing ring with a black eye.

"I find the whole Wulff situation unclear, I'm not sure how much he's done wrong and to what extent it's been hyped up by the media," said Kuckelkorn. "A lot of people I've spoken to agree with me. So we left it open if he put himself on the bench or has been laid out there to be sacrificed."

The Rose Monday processions, the highlight of the carnival week, are broadcast live on TV.

"We've become more political, in our approach, that's what people want," said Kuckelkorn. "In recent years we've been making clearer political statements in our parades." Carnival usually exposes underlying tensions between the rival Rhine cities of Cologne and Düsseldorf, who each claim to be better at celebrating it.

It's no different this year. "Düsseldorf just wants to provoke," said Kuckelkorn. "We approach things a bit more intelligently and encourage people to think."

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