Being home sick, it amazes me how quickly I can pick back up on the rhythms of the neighborhood, taking me back to when I had no job, and spent a lot of time people watching.
I’ve been listening carefully for the sounds of the Crazy Cat Man out on a walk with his cats. Things have evolved a bit. Now his lurching drinking buddy is almost always with him on his rounds, sometimes walking a cat himself and yelling out their names at the top of his lungs, making him Crazy Cat Man No.2.
Strange Mrs. Fest from next door has made a bona fide documented appearance in daylight. I found her prancing around the front of our building, scooting leaves into the gutter with her feet. A small but momentous step for Mrs. Fest, although I am still pretty sure she goes out on her nocturnal rounds to eat small children who unwittingly leave their windows open.
Watching the Mommies on Parade as I walked home from my appointment, I noticed that there were paper lanterns on sticks suspended from most of the stroller handles and from little children’s hands.
Today was Martinstag.
Martinstag or St. Martin’s Day is a slightly mysterious* children’s holiday in Germany. Celebrated in the very catholic Bavarian and Rhineland regions, depending on the area it is takes place on the 10th or the 11th of November. Legend has it that St. Martin as a young soldier came across a freezing beggar and, cutting his cape in two with his sword, gave half to man.
In Munich after dark, children carry paper lanterns that they’ve made in school and form processions in honor of St. Martin and go through neighborhoods around town singing songs about him. In some areas it may more resemble caroling in that they knock on doors and hope for cookies or presents. In Haidhausen where I live – which used to be an outlying village instead of the neighborhood in Munich that it is today – the children gather into a large group, armed with their lanterns lit with candles, many wearing capes and paper crowns, and follow one child on horseback in a parade through the streets, from one end of the old town to the other.
I came across the parade on my way home. There were children of all ages, starting at the stroller to pre-teen. The older children carried flaming torches and there was even a small marching band. One website I checked said that the ‘Martin’s fire’ is supposed to burn away the last of summer in order to make room for the next spring. It gets quite cold at night now and all the kids were bundled up in scarves and knit caps. This little holiday has the feel of marking the season’s change and saying goodbye to Fall, acknowledging Winter and looking forward to next Spring’s warmth.
For the kids it’s a special day where they get to dress up and go out at night – sounds familiar doesn’t it? Traditionally they even get sweets: a sugary pretzel, very appropriate for Bavaria.
(*I say mysterious because it’s not yet in Wikipedia and most websites give little to no information.)