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Bavarian festival: wintry cold and cascading confetti

Under the approving eyes of the Rathaus gargoyles and cherubs, a band blares out ''Skip to my Lou.'' Normally sedate burghers with fake noses and whirligig antennas bobbling on their heads grab total strangers by the arms and dance in the streets. ''Cowboys'' and ''Indians'' throw confetti with special glee onto elegant, fur-coated ladies. Children with white-painted cheeks hang firmly onto red-painted balloons, lest they escape into the sky.

It's the last Sunday of Fasching, the carnival that precedes Ash Wednesday's return to Lenten sobriety. And it is celebrated nowhere more avidly than here in the Bavarian capital. The city government - along with business contributions - has footed the 120,000 mark ($50,000) bill for the street fest, and the Muncheners have turned out en masse. Banners float from the Gothic Rathaus, which has (along with its predecessors) presided over 688 successive carnivals. Some 160 streetlights have been festooned with polka-dot top hats and other appropriate garb.

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It may be bitingly cold, with snow on the ground - but that daunts none of the revelers, who refuse to admit that Munich in February is no Rio. The legs of the baton girls are just as bare as in midsummer. The drummers' hands are gloveless, as are the hands of the fellow in chaps on the top of the revolving human pyramid, who is twirling his 50-foot lasso, ladies and gentlemen. The frozen cotton candy is only slightly less sticky than the norm as it brushes on ski jackets. Hot chestnuts find lots of buyers.

Apart from Fasching, life proceeds as usual in Bavaria: Richard Wagner is being specially honored (yet again) with all TV channels broadcasting a program from the Bayreuth Opera House. One Klaus Schenk, who already boasts the world record in ski somersaults, is trying to grab the gold also in ski endurance with an unbroken 60-hour run. Eight-thousand soldiers of the British Army in Germany are beginning their winter maneuver, ''Snow Queen.''

For their part, Munich florists are trying to introduce the worthy Anglo-Saxon custom of giving flowers on St. Valentine's Day by decking out a tram car with their blooms and presenting free bouquets to passers-by on the route from Steinhausen to Wettersteinplatz.

In politics, the party that has governed since anyone can remember, the Christian Social Union (CSU), is proposing that bicycles be allowed on the Munich subway on weekdays as well as weekends, a perennial bone of contention. Two-hundred new garden plots have just been made available by the city of Munich - although the CSU and the Social Democrats are still at loggerheads about whether the city should also continue to provide interest-free financing to lucky waiting-list recipients for building cottages on them.

Meanwhile, in the robust adult education program that West Germany is so proud of, the nearby community of Buchloe has just decided that courses will be free for anyone out of work. And the equivalent Volkshochschule in Munich, while only offering reduced fees to the unemployed, will at least be giving them a choice of 3,200 separate subjects this spring.

One clown felt it incumbent to counsel an out-of-town visitor, faced with this intimidating array of possibilities for amusement and edification: ''Remember - it's either/or. That's what I always say.''

And with that he baptized the visitor with a technicolor cascade of confetti.

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