Of Cotton Candy and Zeitgeist
Traditional Fairs in GermanyOf Cotton Candy and Zeitgeist
Traditional fairs are held each year in many cities and towns in Germany: they‘re called “Jahrmarkt”, “Rummel”, or “Kirmes” – and some have been around for centuries. The carnies have often operated their rides over generations.
But what looks like tradition requires much innovation – and a good sense of the zeitgeist. How do carnies reinvent themselves and their rides without sacrificing their legacy?
Between family tradition and modernity: a tour of the traditional fair.
Josef Diebold, children’s carrousel
With Hand, Heart and Mind
It’s an idyllic little world turning up and down there and one sees that much heart’s blood, but also a lot of sweat, has been put into it. Planning, investing, profit and loss.
After a few rounds the Orient Express brakes and stops. For Josef Diebold this is the best moment: when the children don’t want to get off and want to go for another ride, because then he knows; “We did everything right”.
But technology, speed and design alone do not guarantee success, says Josef Diebold, because „the soul is missing, the heart. And that is the person at the till, the one with the mic in hand animating people. That’s what being a carnie is all about.”
Today Josef Diebold would want to own no other ride than a children’s carrousel. Each year the same families come to him – and even after the children have long outgrown the carrousel, their parents pay Josef Diebold a visit: “We talk with each other, are happy to see each other.”
And carnies are also pleased when their children are enthusiastic about this profession and want to operate their own ride later on. “Handing on the flame, not the ashes, is our motto,” says Josef Diebold. You are a carnie out of passion. “It‘s not always easy, but it is simply wonderful.”
At Home on the Road
At Home on the Road
The children also travel with their parents from one fair to the next. They go to a different school in each location. On the fair grounds they make friends – and sometimes find the love of their lives.
Angelika Weiß, shooting gallery
A Shot – and a Hit!
In the carnie business, separation of the private sphere and business is practically impossible. That’s how we grew up as children, for us it’s completely normal, says Angelika Weiß.
Tubes, tin cans and stars – she has different targets for beginners and pros. This has stayed pretty much the same over the decades.
The prizes have changed, too. There are still corkscrews, lollipops, plush toys. But in particular children – at other booths as well – want whatever is in right now – this year the fidget spinner or the Minions figures from the film Despicable Me above all.
But what would a shooting gallery be without roses?
Fairs and Deadlines
Fair organisers, for the most part the respective cities and municipalities, then select the attractions for their fairs: what rides will be offered? How big are they? How family-friendly? How eco-friendly? How contemporary? These questions play a part in the selections.
A spot at a fair is coveted: In Augsburg, for instance, there are three times as many applicants as available places.
Bruno Noli, auto-scooter
A Carnie for Life
After completing his training, Bruno Noli returned and at 19 purchased his own first ride. Today he runs an auto-scooter and a sweets booth together with his wife and daughter.
Bruno Noli’s wife is a career switcher, she does not come from a carnie family. But evidently it was not hard for her to adjust to life on the road. Because carnie life isn’t all that unusual, says Bruno Noli. “We also have a steady life, just that in summer it’s on the fairgrounds.”
In the past the auto-scooter was the meeting-point for young people’s rendezvous. Like Bruno Noli back then. But they also came to hear the latest music. Now they all have it on their phones – and a fixed meeting-point is also no longer needed because everybody arranges to meet via Facebook or WhatsApp. Today, it’s mainly parents with children who take Bruno Noli’s ride.
He would like to completely hand over the auto-scooter to his daughter soon. But despite this he cannot imagine totally abandoning the fairgrounds. An older carnie colleague once said to him: “What am I supposed to do at home, I don‘t know anybody there, in summer my friends are at the fairgrounds. When I’m home I’ve mowed the lawn three times in two weeks.” Clearly, once a carnie, always a carnie. “I think you have no other way but to live on the fairgrounds,” says Bruno Noli.
Innovation ist Tradition
Innovation Is Tradition
To remain attractive to the visitors and townships where they stay over, they repaint their sweets booths, replace the carrousel‘s lighting, buy new cars for the auto-scooter, offer trendy prizes at lottery booths.
The latest technology is always in use on fairgrounds, and must prove itself in cold, humidity and high capacity utilisation. If an invention proves itself on the fairgrounds it can also pass the test in industry or the household – like the LED lights that were tested for the first time at fair rides about twenty years ago.
Michael and Christina Baier, Musikexpress
But there aren’t as many fairs there as in earlier times. Michael Baier must therefore go to fairs that are several hundred kilometres away.
When they are underway they need six vehicles all told: three heavy-duty transporters for the Music Express and three caravans for his family and currently four employees.
A ride is actually a small enterprise. Employee protection, TÜV safety regulations and a new DIN standard for so called mobile constructions: the demands on carnies are getting stricter. Thus, individual parts for certain carrousels and roller-coasters must now be calibrated to greater passenger body weights than in the past.
To the left of the gondolas, almost a bit concealed, is the Music Express’ control centre: here tickets are sold, the ride steered and suggestions made: “How ’bout it, wanna go again? – Not loud enough!” This is how a barker – male or female – animates visitors to get in, and entertains them during the ride.
Michael and Christina Baier keep an eye on the riders, select the music and work the lighting system, all at the same time. They relieve each other every two hours.
Don’t Talk about Death
“I’ve always had the gift, even as a child – and I always said to my husband I’d do it professionally.” And Novredana absolutely wanted a caravan at the fairs: “I could also have had an office, but I was ambitious and wanted every kind of person, not just one type.” Judges, public prosecutors, police, business people and caregivers of all ages come to her.
Her customers mount two steps to enter the caravan. There sits Novredana on a large office chair behind a table. Those who come must first keep silent: “I do the talking, and then they can ask questions.”
It’s the great themes of life that they have on their minds: love, profession, health. Just no talk about death.
She knows that not all of her customers believe in fortune-telling. But that doesn’t bother her. “I also can’t say that I’m always right.” Her profession has changed in any case: many customers want her advice more than an actual prediction.
By the way, Novredana can’t read the cards for herself!
Cinnamon Stars instead of Spun Sugar
Zimtstern statt Zuckerwatte
The caravans and rides are winterised and put in storage. In winter, many carnies have booths at the Christmas markets in their home towns. In Nuremberg, Angelika Weiß sells Nativity figures and wood carvings from South Tyrol, and Josef Diebold sets up a nostalgic children’s carrousel in Augsburg.
Things get going again in mid-January, after the winter break: the rides are cleaned, serviced and modernised – and at Easter the new fair season begins.