Fasching in Germany – a seasonal nuisance

I guess you have to be German to really get into this Faschingsmode, which is a loud and lively gaiety on the streets, in bars, and other public meeting places around this time of year.

The highlight of the current Fasching season is on the last weekend in February. Starting 19 Feb (Thu), the bars will be full of costumed (more or less) people shouting Helau! or Alaaf! or whatever else depending on the region in Germany. All this partying will end on 24 Feb (Tue midnight) with Ash Wednesday marking the beginning of the forty days before Easter.

If you are a newcomer to Germany, then some pointers might be helpful.

*If you need to go out at night, expect to find crowded pubs and bars.

*If you go out with a tie on 19 Feb (Thu), be prepared to have it cut off – see Weiberfastnacht.

*For daytime drivers – local kids might stretch a rope across the street, asking for a toll to let you pass (most people give 50 cents or 1 euro). But you could also play ignorant and start speaking in a foreign language. English won’t do anymore; you’ll have to use something less common.

*This concerns both genders nowadays: you might anticipate indecent behavior as some Germans believe “anything goes” during this fifth season.

*Stay away from public toilets unless you have a strong stomach.

*For a cultural experience, I would advise to watch this from afar, namely on TV as most stations will broadcast the biggest parades in Mainz and Cologne on Rose Monday. (The very first parade in Germany took place in Cologne in 1823.)

*Some schools in our local state of Hesse are closed as well as in other German states. Some businesses in Cologne also close their doors on Rose Monday and Carnival Tuesday as to avoid having drunken employees show up at work.

*I could only wish some of this wonderful cheer by the Germans would distribute itself over their sometimes somber faces throughout the year. Even without facial disguise on Fasching, some Germans are so cheerful, one would not recognize them to be the same grumpy people otherwise.

By now you probably wonder when I started to dislike Fasching. I used to be part of a Fasching dance club in my local Franconian village of Hambach. At the age of 17, I danced on stage at the local Karnevalssitzung. Later on, so-called respected church members would make indecent passes in the name of “anything goes”, and I thought of them as total hypocrites. Throughout the year they would help pass the holy bread, but on Fasching they would pass as holy asses.

Back in the sixties and seventies – in a time were contraception was not allowed by the church – some children would be born in November not resembling their legal fathers. They used to be called Faschingskinder.

Karneval – Fasching – Fastnacht

Karneval, also known as Fasching or Fastnacht (even Fasnet, Fasnacht or Fasenacht), officially begins on 11th November at 11:11, but it only really gets going after Ephiphany.

However the really mad days only start on the Thursday before Rosenmontag, when the main events such as the processions take place.

This Thursday is also known as the Weiberfastnacht – on this day the women celebrate. (A word of warning to all men: don’t wear a tie to work on this day!)

The season is the last chance to drink and be merry before the start of Lent, and it is also to drive out the darkness of the winter.

To hear a simple explanation and a short discussion in German, listen to the podcast:

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