The Fasching or carnival season is also known as the “fifth season” in Germany. It is a time when Germans loosen up a little, dress up in funny costumes and party for days at a time.
Carnival has a long tradition in Europe and is celebrated with vigor in many countries. It originates in the preparation for the six-week fasting time during lent, which ends on Easter. Because the Fasching and lent seasons are based on the church calendar, the dates fluctuate every year; while the official start of the season is always on the 11th day of the 11th month at 11:11 a.m., the revelers stay mostly dormant during the Advent and Christmas season until the actual high Fasenacht season in the following spring.
Best known to international tourists is probably the Carnevale di Venezia, the Carnival of Venice, with its fancy costumes and elaborate masks. But Germany has developed it’s own cherished Fasching traditions and costumes over the centuries, with significant regional differences.
The south-west of Germany and parts of Switzerland celebrate the Swabian-Alemanic Fastnacht where people wear large masks typically made from wood; the masks and matching costumes are often passed on in families for generations and worn during traditional parades and events.
Karneval is especially popular in the Rhine-Main region; big cities like Cologne, Mainz or Düsseldorf more or less shut down to party during the high season. In the time between New Year’s and the high Fasching season many towns and villages host balls, parties and parades. Party goers typically dress up as a character, similar to Halloween. German police are cruising the streets more frequently at night to catch those who drink and drive.
Many communities host parties called “Kinderfasching” for the young ones, usually taking place in a community center or gym. These events involve dress-up for the kids, a lot of loud music and dancing, games, face painting and food. They are quite popular with the kids, while the parents go along as chaperones (ear plugs recommended!).
The high season, when the true madness begins, starts traditionally with Altweiberfasnacht, or crazy Thursday. In many towns the women take over the city’s courthouse, grab the keys to the city and cut off the tie of any man who dares to wear one. A long weekend of parties follows; on Monday, people flock to the large cities like Cologne or Mainz to watch the Rosenmontag (“Rose Monday”) parades, which are also shown live on TV. Others stay local and enjoy smaller parades, which often feature folklore background and quirky local traditions.
Faschingsdienstag – Shrove Tuesday or Mardi Gras – offers one last chance to party hard and then “bury” the carnival at midnight until following year. Aschermittwoch (Ash Wednesday) marks the end of the carnival revelry and the beginning of Fastenzeit (“fasting time“- lent); the weeks before Easter are often used as a time for reflection and renunciation of personal vices, like smoking, alcohol or candy, or more recently, television or internet use.
To find Fasching events in the Franconia region, visit the Was ist los in Franken? section of the Ansbach Hometown Herald at Was ist los in Franken?