Treasure trove in the tower
Almost 70 years of Namibian carnival history
17 September 2019 | Art and Entertainment
People rarely get lost at the Windhoek Carnival Museum, even though it is somewhat hidden.
Tucked away in the tower of the Old Brewery complex on the corner of Garten and Tal Street, are the collected treasures of 67 carnival years celebrated in Namibia. To get to these treasures, visitors follow red signs through narrow corridors and winding stairs up to the tower room.
The jester head one floor below the museum entrance reveals that you are on the right track. Once at the top, you enter the hallowed halls of the Windhoek Carnival – better known as Wika. In the center of the room, square tables are covered with bright yellow-and-red Hansa draft beer tablecloths, surrounded by colorfully mixed chairs.
The walls are covered with display cases featuring yellowed and faded posters and photos looking back on the long history that is the Windhoek Carnival Society (established in 1952), along with memorabilia of other clubs in the country. Behind the glass are portraits of former carnival presidents, while the walls are adorned with aged documents and medals in all sizes and colours.
Heiner Dillmann sits on a bar stool covered in red velvet. Those wishing to take a look around the museum must arrange to meet with him or one of his colleagues first, since the Wika Museum only opens on request. There are not enough visitors for regular opening hours, and that’s why Dillmann sees the space as a clubhouse rather than a real museum.
The glass display cases add a little structure to the room where boxes and chests are piled up to the rafters. Each displays the colourful costumes worn by royal couples, Funkenmariechen, and other uniforms – “basically all kinds of memorabilia,” Dilmann says waving towards the outfits.
Actually there’s so much to explore in the Wika Museum, even the curator doesn’t always know where to start his tour.
Moving to a cupboard at the far end of the room, Dillmann opens an album featuring the princes and princesses of recent years. “It is becoming increasingly difficult to find candidates to fill the royal couple shoes,” he says, “but so far we have always found someone and no one has had to do it twice yet.”
Still, times are hard for the carnival, he says. “Visitor numbers are decreasing and carnival sittings are no longer absolutely necessary.” He adds that this can be partly attributed to the supersaturation of television. “Why pay for stage comedy when you can watch comedy on television? Thankfully smaller events like the sundowners or Frühschoppen remain popular.”
Dillmann fondly recalls times when there was little competition for the whacky activities that go hand in hand with the carnival.
“As a child, my dad listened to the news on Deutsche Welle. There was not much other entertainment back then,” he says. Once a year a school friend of his father, who lived in Mainz, recorded the program Mainz bleibt Mainz, wie es singt und lacht (Mainz remains Mainz, how it sings and laughs) on a cassette and posted it to Namibia. “We usually waited three to four weeks for the tapes to arrive,” Dillmann recalls. Perhaps the long wait and the anticipation for some comic relief strengthened his love for everything carnival. To this day, he feels very connected to the Mainz carnival, where he finds it is even more political than in the birthplace of carnival, Cologne.
Local is lekker
The idea to open a Windhoek Carnival Museum came about in 2003. “The brewery had long since moved and everything here was more or less empty and they didn’t know what to do with the space,” Dillmann says. The original idea came from carnival member Heinemann Reinert, who signed a contract with Werner List to use the tower room on the premises, which still houses the Wika Museum today.
From the ceiling hang the oversized masks of the Gugge-group. “A Gugge group does washboard music – as loudly and as unmusically as possible,” Dillmann says with a laugh.
When all the fun and games come to an end in Germany’s carnival cities on Ash Wednesday, carnival fans in Windhoek wait for the local launch, since here in Namibia, the traditional carnival season only kicks off at the end of March or the beginning of April. Unlike in Germany, the seasons does not herald the beginning of Lent.
Dillmann explains why the carnival clocks in Namibia tick differently: “Ash Wednesday falls right in the rainy season, and it’s a bit cooler in April.” A third reason is that there are many guest appearances by artists from Germany. If Namibia were to celebrate Shrovetide at the same time as Cologne and Mainz, things would simply not flow as well, Dillmann opines.
So, what originated in Germany as a Christian tradition, is understood here primarily as a German habit – the dates here are less important. For example, every two years Witvlei’s Oska takes place in May. “In June, the Swakopmunders are off with Küska and in July Otjiwarongo follows. Actually, in Namibia, we celebrate carnival throughout the year!” Dillmann says.
However, it’s not just about keeping German traditions strong. “We also try to include a Namibian element – be it with the theme of street parade or our sittings.”
Then there are also the German Büttenreden as well as two international evenings, which are held in English and Afrikaans.
Namibia’s carnival societies also have a lively exchange programme, with most having found their place in the Wika Museum. He points to a bulletin board behind glass. “Here are the orders of the Windhoeker Carnival, as well as those from the committees in Swakopmund, Oshakati, Okahandja, Witvlei, Stellenbosch, Pretoria and Lüderitz.”
In other display cases, these clubs present themselves.
At the moment there is a gap between these cases: The display case from Otjiwarongo is missing. “We thought it was time for some new pictures and fresh information,” Heike Dedig of the Otji-Helau society says. As soon as the display has been refitted, it will return to the museum.
At the moment there’s not much hustle and bustle at the museum, but come 11 October the new carnival season in Namibia kicks off – and then it’s fun and games for all!