I’m sure you’ve heard of the Mardi Gras in New Orleans. It’s been celebrated for centuries and is known worldwide. However, many people still do not understand what Fasching is in Germany.
The main Days of the season begin early this year, mark your calendars
Rose Monday-08.Feb 2016
Fashings Tuesday-09.Feb 2016
Fasching is Germany’s carnival season. It starts on the 11th day of November at exactly 11minutes after 11am and ends at the stroke of midnight on Shroud Tuesday – often referred to as Fat Tuesday (the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday). Fasching is more or less a Roman Catholic and Christian Orthodox celebration and most Protestant and non-Christian areas do not celebrate it.
Fasching (also known as Karneval) is a time of festivity and merry making – a time to break the rules, poke fun at those who make them and then to make your own new rules.
In Germany, particularly in the Rhineland area, the tradition can be traced to medieval times where many countries existed under harsh rules. Kings, princes and even smaller potentates maintained their own courts. In doing so, they flaunted before each other their own pomp and splendor at the expense of their population.
During karneval time, the common people took a chance at ‘living it up” and “talking back to their rulers”. They would make a mock government of eleven people, as well as other officials. A price and princess were selected to rule the country during the Fasching season. Political authorities, high placed persons and sovereigns were the target of ridicule, and featured in humorous and satirical speeches. To avoid persecution and punishment, these antics were played out from behind masks and costumes. Parades, dancing in the streets, masquerade balls and comical skits filled the days and nights.
Karneval festivities have become annual events around the world. Also known as Fasching, Carnival and Mardi gras, the most famous are located in the following places:
- Köln, Germany
- Nice, France
- Rio de Janeiro, Brazil
- Venice, Italy
- New Orleans, Louisiana
Although Carnival in Rio is probably the craziest of all, Germany is undoubtedly the most enthusiastic Karneval center in Europe.
Nearly every town has its own festivities and it is celebrated in homes across the country with the same enthusiasm in which we celebrate Halloween. The Karnevals vary from area to area, but no matter where the celebrations are held, there is fun, happiness, laughter and certain nostalgia.
In German-speaking countries, there are essentially two distinct variations of Carnivals: the Rhenish Carnival in the west of Germany centered around the cities of Düsseldorf, Cologne and Mainz, and the Alemannic or Swabian-Alemannic Fastnacht in Swabia (Southwestern Germany), Switzerland, Alsace and Vorarlberg (Western Austria). The Rhenish Carnival (Rheinischer Karneval), mainly in the states of (North Rhine-Westphalia and Rhineland-Palatinate) is famous for celebrations such as parades and costume balls. Cologne carnival is the largest and most famous. Cologne, along with Düsseldorf and Mainz, are held in the public media to be Germany’s three carnival “strongholds”. However carnival celebrations are widespread elsewhere in the Rhineland, in places such as Wattenscheid, Hagen, Krefeld, Aachen, Mönchengladbach, Duisburg, Bonn, Eschweiler, Bocholt and Kleve.
In parts of East and South Germany and Austria the carnival is called Fasching. In Franconia and the southwest-parts and also some other parts of Germany a carnival is called Fastnacht or Fasnet.
Although the festival and party season in Germany starts as early as the beginning of January, the actual carnival week starts on the Thursday (“Weiberfastnacht”) before Ash Wednesday. German Carnival parades are held on the weekend before and especially on Rosenmontag (Rose Monday), the day before Shrove Tuesday, and sometimes also on Shrove Tuesday (“Faschingsdienstag”) in the suburbs of larger carnival cities. The carnival session begins each year on 11 November at 11:11 a.m. and finishes on Ash Wednesday with the main festivities happening around Rosenmontag; this time is also called the “Fifth Season.”
While Germany’s carnival traditions are mostly celebrated in the predominantly Roman Catholic southern and western parts of the country, the Protestant North traditionally knows a festival under the Low Saxon names Fastelavend [ˈfastl̩.ˌɒːvm̩t], Fastelabend [ˈfastl̩.ˌɒːbm̩t] and Fastlaam (also spelled Fastlom) [ˈfastl̩ɒːm]. This name has been imported to Denmark as Fastelavn and is related to Vastelaovend in the Low-Saxon-speaking parts of the Netherlands. It is traditionally connected with farm servants or generally young men going from house to house in the villages and collecting sausages, eggs and bacon, which was consumed in a festivity on the same evening. While going from house to house they wore masks and made noise. The old tradition vanished in many places; in other places under influence of German carnival traditions it came to resemble carnival with its parades.
Modern carnival there began in 1823 with the founding of a Carnival Club in Cologne. Most cities and villages of the Rhineland have their own individual Carnival traditions. Nationally famous are the Carnival in Cologne (Köln), Düsseldorf and Mainz.
Clubs organize “sessions” which are show events called Sitzung with club members or invited guests performing dance, comedy and songs in costumes. The most frequently performed piece of music during such “sessions” is the “Narrhallamarsch”.
The Carnival spirit is then temporarily suspended during Advent and Christmas, and picks up again in earnest in the New Year. The time of merrymaking in the streets is officially declared open at the Alter Markt during the Cologne Carnival on the Thursday before the beginning of Lent. The main event is the street carnival that takes place in the period between the Thursday before Ash Wednesday and Ash Wednesday. Carnival Thursday is called Altweiber (Old women day) in Düsseldorf or Wieverfastelovend (The women’s day) in Cologne. This celebrates the beginning of the “female presence in carnival”, which began in 1824, when washer-women celebrated a “workless day” on the Thursday before carnival. They founded committee in 1824 to strengthen their presence in the still male-dominated carnival celebrations. In each city, a woman in black storms the city hall to get the “key” for the city-/town halls from its mayor. In many places “fools” take over city halls or municipal government and “wild” women cut men’s ties wherever they get hold of them. Also, as a tradition, women are allowed to kiss every man who passes their way. On the following days, there are parades in the street organized by the local carnival clubs. The highlight of the carnival period however is Rose Monday (Rosenmontag). Although Rose Monday is not an official holiday in the Rhineland, in practice most public life comes to a halt and almost all workplaces are closed. The biggest parades are on Rose Monday, the famous Rosenmontagszug (Rose Monday Parade), e.g. in Cologne, Düsseldorf, Mainz, and many other cities. During these events, hundreds of thousands of people celebrate in the streets at low temperatures, most of them dressed up in costumes. Almost every town has a special carnival cry (Cologne, Bonn and Aachen: Alaaf!; Düsseldorf and Mainz: Helau!; Mönchengladbach: Halt Pohl! (hold on to the pole); Rheydt: All Rheydt!).
PerchtenmaskeThe “Swabian-Alemannic” carnival begins on January 6 (Epiphany/Three Kings Day). This celebration is known as Fastnacht. Variants are Fasnet, Fasnacht or Fasent. Fastnacht is held in Baden-Württemberg, parts of Bavaria, and Alsace. Switzerland and Vorarlberg, in Austria, also hold this celebration. The festival starts on the Thursday before Ash Wednesday, known in these regions as Schmutziger Donnerstag or Fettdonnerstag. In standard German, schmutzig means “dirty”, but actually the name is from the local dialect where schmotzig means “fat.” Elsewhere the day is called “Women’s Carnival” (Weiberfastnacht), being the day when tradition says that women take control. In particular regions of Tyrol, Salzburg and Bavaria traditional processions of the Perchten welcome the springtime. The Schönperchten (“beautiful Perchts”) represent the birth of new life in the awakening nature, the Schiachperchten (“ugly Perchts”) represent the dark spirits of wintertime. Farmers yearn for warmer weather and the Perchtenlauf (Run of Perchts; ) is a magical expression of that desire. The nights between winter and spring, when evil ghosts are supposed to go around, are also called Rauhnächte (“rough nights”).