This year the town of Wesseling has dubbed a Tunisian boy its traditional Carnival prince. Nine-year-old Mahjoub Jemili's complexion may not fit the stereotype, but his thick regional accent certainly bears it up.
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Mahjoub the First has already faced one of the biggest tests of his reign as the children's prince of Wesseling. He addressed Cologne Cardinal Joachim Meissner, which had invited Wesseling's Carnival society to coffee. And he was a success.
"He did his job very well. And his command of the Cologne dialect is a huge achievement," remarked Meissner. "I can't do it at all. When I try people just laugh -- justifiably so."
Nevertheless, the children's prince bestowed his very own Carnival medal on the cardinal. The medal was decorated with his title, Wesseling's coat of arms, a soccer ball and a camel, in reference to his favorite hobby and his origin.
Born in the Rhineland, the boy speaks fluent German in the dialect of the Cologne area. His dialect is so thick that many a German from beyond the Rhine wouldn't understand him.
It was work which brought Jemili's grandparents to Wesseling, south of Cologne, in 1970, decades before Mahjoub was born. Mahjoub is the third generation of Wesselingers, after his parents, Lamia and Foued.
Years of Carnival-going
Though born in Tunisia, Mahjoub's mother identifies more strongly with Germany than with her country of birth, and she sees the choice of Mahjoub as Carnival prince as an example of successful integration. But she and her husband were still a bit nervous when they got the news.
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"We were a little concerned and thought, 'What will happen when the boy goes on stage? Will people accept it?' At a meeting of senior citizens, when the boy's name was called out -- 'Here comes the children's price Mahjoub I' -- they didn't know what to make of it. And then they saw the boy," recalled Lamia Jemili. "But once he was on stage and said the first word in Cologne dialect, and then his speech. The people turned around and said, 'Is that your son? That's great'!"
Mahjoub is already well-seasoned when it comes to Carnival. Like many Rhineland kids, he's celebrated the event every year since he can remember -- the first time at the age of eight months. The Jemilis have always been part of the Wessling's Carnival society.
Mahjoub, like other Rhineland kids, started celebrating Carnival at a young age
"In my eyes, you have to want to be integrated," said Lamia Jemili. "And I say over and over again: Language is essential. If we hadn't had our surroundings, weren't so linguistically able, if we hadn't really had the will to become part of the Wesseling community, it wouldn't have been possible at all. Talk of integration goes over Mahjoub's head. He just likes to be Carnival prince, and he's good at it. Despite his living the life of a German boy, though Mahjoub remains conscious of his roots and visits his extended family in Tunisia each year.