Tomorrow (8th of February) in Germany many streets will come to life with colorful parades, loud music and celebrations around every corner since it’s carnival time. Even if you’ve experienced Carnival in New Orleans during Mardi Gras, there is still a lot to learn about how the German-speaking countries have fun. Here are five popular carnival celebrations throughout Germany, Switzerland and Austria.
But first of all what is “Fasching”?
Actually, a more precise question would be: What is Fasching, Karneval, Fasnacht and Fastelabend? They are all one and the same thing: pre-Lenten-Spring festivities celebrated in grand style mostly in the predominantly Catholic regions of the German-speaking countries. The Rhineland has its Karneval, Austria, Bavaria and Berlin (the capital of Germany) call it Fasching however the German-Swiss celebrate Fastnacht. I have found other names as well for Fasching such as: Fassenacht, Fasnet, Fastelavend, Fastlaam stc..Nicknames Fünfte Jahreszeit (fifth season) or Narrische Saison!
When is it celebrated? Fasching officially begins in most regions in Germany on Nov 11 at 11:11 a.m. or the day after the Three kings day, on Jan. 7th. However, the big bash celebrations are not on the same given date each year. Instead the date varies depending on when Easter falls. Fasching culminates into Fasching week, which begins the week before Ash Wednesday! (this year the carnival period is from 8th of February till 15th)
How is it celebrated?
Soon after Fasching season opens, a mock government of eleven guilds is elected, along with a Carnival prince and princess, who basically plan the carnival festivities. The biggest events are held the week before Asch Wednesday as follows:
Weiberfastnacht (women carnival): This is mainly an event held in the Rhineland (but also in München, Bavaria) on the Thursday before Asch Wednesday. The day begins with women storming into symbolically taking over city hall. Then, the women throughout the day snip off men’s ties and kiss any man who passes their way The day ends with people going to local venues and bars in costume
Parties, celebrations and parades: People celebrate the carnival in costume at various Carnival Community events and individual parties. Carnival parades abound. It is the weekend for people to live it up!
Rosenmontag-Rosen Monday: The largest and most popular Carnival parades take place on the Monday before Asch Wednesday! The origin of these parades come mostly from the Rhineland region. People throughout the German-speaking countries will tune in to watch the biggest German Carnival parade of all, which is held in Cologne (television channels broadcast the festival)
Fastnachtdienstag-Carnival Tuesday-Mardi Gras: Besides some parades that are held on this day, there is an other event it is called burial or burning of the Nubbel. The Nubbel is a life-sized puppet made of straw and embodies all of the sins committed during Carnival season. It is burned through a great ceremony on Tuesday evening before everyone parties one more time until Asch Wednesday arrives
What is the root or origin of the celebration? Fasching celebrations stem from various beliefs and traditions. For Catholics, it provided a festive season of food and fun before the Lenten fasting period began During the medieval times, plays were performed during the Lenten period called Fastnachtspiele. In pre-Christian times, Carnival symbolized the driving out of winter and all of its evil spirits. Hence the masks, to scare away these spirits. In southern Germany and Switzerland reflects these traditions.
Furthermore, there are Carnival traditions that can be traced back to historical events. After the French Revolution, the French took over Rhineland. Out of protest against French oppression, Germans from Cologne and surrounding areas would mock their politicians and leaders safely behind masks during Carnival season. Even today, caricatures of politicians and other personalities can be seen boldly portrayed on floats in the parades.