Tag Archives: fasching

Fasching, Fasnet or Carneval – Licence to Run Wild

“With this topic” I warned Francesca, ” werde ich  vom Hölzchen aufs Stöckchen kommen-I won´t be able to tell a straight tale“. No tradition  is typical for Germany as a whole. We even can´t agree on a common name. Therefore, in this blog I talk about Fasnet, Fasnacht or Carneval, different names for the same few days before Lent, when Germans are licenced to run wild. 

Some regions don´t celebrate carneval at all. Historically, those were the regions where protestantism prevailed. A religious map of Germany would be red for protestants in the North and the East and green for catholics  in the South and the West.  The carneval-map would look very much alike. But both of them would be sprinkled with red and green dots like a Streuselkuchen. In a green dot, carneval would be a long-lived tradition with all the power of emotion, while in the red surroundings carneval today might take place, but without vibrancy. This happens in Frankfurt every year: while this basically protestant city organizes a somehow lukewarm “Faschingsumzug” on Sunday, the real, heartfelt Fasching takes place in its suburb Heddernheim, on Tuesday.

Carneval means anarchy. For seven days, all authorities are overthrown. First, men and their symbols of power a dethroned. On Weiberfasnacht-women´s carneval next Wednesday, men better don´t wear ties. Women are on the loose this day. In their bags, they carry scissors and cut any tie in reach. Maybe Sigmund Freud´s castration complex was  born on a especially wild night in late 19th century Vienna. I remember Weiberfasnacht as the only day the women of our village where allowed into the local inn without their husbands. They even sat at the Stammtisch, the table near the oven that is reserved for the local regulars. Women never sit down at the Stammtisch, never. So, this is anarchy.

Government is overthrown the next day, on schmutziger Donnerstag-dirty Thursday. Where I come from, masses in old nightgowns storm the city hall. Elsewhere, Prince and Princess Carneval reign. From Thursday on, everybody wears fancy dresses, and everybody  misbehaves: Alles ist erlaubt-no restrictions. 

Though, this being Germany, the fun is well organised. Fasnachtssitzungen and carneval parades are the places where the general cheerfullness takes place–with licence to laugh, and to touch the neighbours, orderly of course, by Schunkeln–joining the arms,  swaying on the benches, and singing. Alcohol helps to shed inhibitions. Therefore, Aschermittwoch, the end of carneval and the beginning of Lent, mainly serves to recover from the biggest hangover of the year.

While Aschermittwoch is fixed on 40 days before Karfreitag-Good Friday, everything else varies according to regional traditions: Weiberfasnacht can be on either Wednesday or Thursday, carneval parades are on Sunday, Monday (Rosenmontag) or Tuesday. And while I´m wrting this, I feel, beneath all the fun and the glitter, the terror of Fasnet. Old images arise, of menacing witches carrying away little children. Look at these pictures of Alemannische Fasnet and you can well imagine how terryfing those parades can be for a little child. The witches carried long chains. When they approached, they lifted the chains to the sky, rattled, screamed and grabbed their victim by the arm. Then, they pulled the terrified child into a ring of chains and dragged them along. For the first time, I felt the dangers and the attractions of evil. I feared to be taken away by the witch and at the same time longed to be taken, as this would make me special. Therefore I lingered on the realm of the parade, ready to be taken, and at the same time prepared to hide behind my parents should I be too afraid.

For many children today, Darth Vader probably radiates the same fascination.

Formed by these early experiences, today I never really connect to carneval parades at other places. They seem too lightweight, too irrelevant, even if corruption and government mispractices are sharply criticized. I have felt the dark side of power that lives in every human being. What else is there to come?

In my case, love. Only once I went to the carneval capital of Germany, Köln. I went there with an old friend. I went there because of serious business, but it was carneval, and we danced at night. We didn´t wear any fancy dresses or any masks. Rather, in dancing, our masks of super-earnest, politically engaged students dropped. In mutual recognition of our light sides, we fell in love.

But this is another story.


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Fasching – Push the Button

There it is. A memory. The colors.

I tried. I really did. I watched the parades, yelled Helaaaauuuuu, ran for candy, went to a “Sitzung” and did the polonaise. But I still don´t get it. I don´t enjoy Fasching.

Isn´t it nice that  Germans are being silly for once? Well maybe that would be nice, if they were not so, well so, so serious about it, held their Fasching parades when it is too cold to be standing or walking around outside and did not confuse moving around a room in caterpillar formation as dancing.

As a child I felt it was as if somebody had pushed a button. Okay everybody, Christmas is done,  get ready for the parade, get the float sorted out, put on your smiles, Merriment Button on ON and HELAU!!  Whatever that is supposed to mean. As the floats pass I duck to avoid candies flung at the crowds and  curse at people that knock other pedestrians and children down as they lunge for the booty. It just makes me mad not jolly.

Luftschlangen - Those are the colors that make me stop in my tracks.

Luftschlangen - Those are the colors that make me stop in my tracks. @Francesca

I also tried a “Sitzung”. My friend took me to an all evening do, when I was about thirteen years old, with dance shows, sketches and above all speeches: Büttenreden. They were supposed to be funny. Being allowed to be really silly only once per year is definitely not enough practice and as everybody wants to have a chance that once per year, there were loads of speeches. I was exhausted by the end of the evening just watching. To top it off, we all were dragged to the floor and polonaised our way around the hall. That was the moment I gave myself the silent promise: Never again.

Hit the switch and you have “Lachen auf Bestellung” (like canned laughter). Even TV conspires to be “amusing” and televises the more famous Sitzungen from up north – Aachen and Köln Karnevalssitzungen. Famous politicians to writers receive special  unserious awards and then are expected to display some of their famous wit in more, yes you guessed it, Büttenreden. To make sure you don´t miss your cue to laugh, the band trumpets a Tatääää (“Tusch”) everytime a joke has been made. I did laugh when when one of the featured politicians reacted angrily about his speech being edited for TV.

Of course everybody likes dressing up. I do too. But if I see one more guy, proud of his originality, dressed up as a Baby or a Something or a CLOWN I faint. I think I hate pink wigs. Children demanding money of drivers at a traffic light as so-called “Faschingzoll” (Faschingstax) does not endear it all to me either. There is no relation between asking for money during Fasching and getting sweets at Halloween. Nobody is expected to laugh at Halloween!

To my relief I have discovered that some Germans feel the same about Fasching or Karnival, quite funny Germans even (Read the alternative Büttenrede by Oliver Kalkofe here). It  has nothing to do with my cultural difference. Something about programmed jollines irks me and has led me to avoid “Fasching” in all its manifestations.

Exceptions: I have gone to parades with my children. Two to be precise and despite the expected candy rain, my children have not expressed any desire to repeat the experience. I hope that is due to my influence.

So when Aschermittwoch comes around I am not sad. People pack up their costumes, retire the speeches to oblivion and are serious about being serious again. Push the button: Merriment Off. What bliss.

I am not generally a grumpy person and I do like a celebration when the emotion is sincere. Fasching just doesn´t cut it for me.

On the other hand  there was the moment when the World Championship of Fußball came to Germany in 2006 .  As the weeks wore on, the weather held, the well-organized and numerous Fan-Meile across Germany welcomed fans of the sport and party-goers alike from all over the world. In all the time I have lived here, I never saw so many smiles for no reason at all but being alive and glad to be so.  Germans were allowing themselves to be happy and spontaneous just for the fun of it.  Their team lost the Finale and everybody was partying as if that did not really matter at all. And it didn´t.

It reminds me of the fairy tale “Der Froschkönig”. After the spell has been broken, the faithful servant Heinrich comes to pick the prince and his bride up with a horse-drawn carriage. Heinrich placed three bands of iron around his heart, when his beloved prince was bewitched, to stop it from breaking. As they all ride home the prince and his bride hear a strange sound three times and ask Heinrich what it is. Every time Heinrich replies his joyful heart has broken another band.

I think I heard that noise in the joyous cheering of a country, as if it had finally been released from an evil spell.


Here the dates if you want to avoid or try it:

Karneval 2009
Weiberfastnacht Do. 19. Februar – Watch your ties! Ladies will cut them in half.
Rosenmontag   Mo.  23. Februar – This is the parade day.
Veilchendienstag Di 24. Februar – Veilchen? Give me a clue. I thought it was more parades.
Aschermittwoch Mi. 25. Februar – Get yourself to church and be sorry for being so cheerful for a three entire days!

For more info on Fastnacht/Fasching/Karnival locations check out the “Stars and Stripes” travel blog:


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Hibernation and “Was Dich nicht umbringt macht Dich nur stärker”

My hair froze.

It’s not the arctic, just Germany in an unusual cold snap. While walking home I caught the pitying look of a pedestrian coming my way and could not understand the reason until I caught sight of my hair, which stood out under my hat in its usual untidy waves but tinted a frozen white. I was afraid if I touched it, it would snap off with a satisfactory tchik noise.

-15 Celsius is unusual. Still we expect our children to weather it all. Many foreigners from warmer shores, who stay here only temporarily, huddle their children to school in their cars at every drop of rain, snow or other “ill” weather and express desperation when the kids are sent outside during the breaks while their German counterparts dress their kids in snowsuits for the cold season and raingear and specialized mud-pants for the rainy season. If we did not adapt to the weather around here we would be going out even less than already is the case. It is winter after all and if we want some snow the only way we seem to be able to keep it in these last years, is if the temperatures drop well below 0 and stay there.

Igloo in the Taunus @Smangane

Igloo in the Taunus @Smangane


This week saw the holiday of Epiphany, Los Reyes Magos , Heilige Drei Könige or La Befana. Exploring the history of our calendars I discover how hard our ancestry worked at creating consistency. Our current calendar evolved, till it attained this structure in which our birthdays and holidays happen in the same season and we always have the same number of months (Here you will find all sorts of interesting data.). Not so in China or Korea. A friend from Korea told me that although they use the Gregorian calendar they mark the Chinese Year on it as well and some of the older generation still move their birthdays and other events accordingly. One year her mother celebrated her birthday in summer and the next in winter.


That is amazing. Here I am admiring my skillful dance between different cultures and languages and suddenly I realize how easy I have it in comparison. We share fundamental things like calendars and know no alternatives. We can completely ignore the recent (1582!) history of their creation and enjoy the fruits of a well-regulated time and calendar system. We can ignore that without precise watches seamen would still risk getting hopelessly lost at sea and we can time our meetings and plan our birthdays for the same day and season every year with only subtle shifts like leap years or leap seconds, which we hardly notice and often forget (Google: Results 55,800 for leap year, software glitch). Consistency is so reassuring.


In January we have left behind the religious holidays and are contemplating the arrival of “Fasching” (Carneval), which officially started in the 11th month on the 11th of day at 11 minutes passt 11 o`clock and will last until the end of February, but we don’t have time to think of preparations until the 06th of January, when with the arrival of the Kings we clear our houses of all related to Christmas by packing up decorations and throwing our trees into the streets. I shiver at the thought of dancers big and small preparing for the Fasching parade in February in their traditionally very short skirts. I can see them in countless halls across the countries donning their colorful suits and three point hats with a fur trimming (Why is the fur on the hats? Why don’t they have long coats?) practicing their steps and baton moves. Maybe school breaks out in any weather have prepared the countless “Funkemariechen” for the feat they are about to perform, which is marching throughout town for the parade in their little skirts, while the audience huddles in winter coats, scarves and wool hats.


I feel I was luckier when I played the role of one of the three kings as a child. We were allowed to dip into the vast treasure of smocks, woolen skirts of mass servants and adorned ourselves with one of the fancy priest stoles, which we  thought was a huge privilege. Pretending to be men and kings (Yes, the servants were all girls in 1976. The boys were all out playing football. I mean soccer.) meant that we could dress warmly. I don´t remember much about the actual event. A few chalkmarks over doors marking our passing and a blessing for the house. What remains are photos that are gradually turning yellow showing myself and my fellow kings grinning into the camera, tucking our long hair under crowns and turbans.


It is a vague but sweet memory to keep me warm as I follow my father’s advice and hibernate like other clever animals and stay in my cave, waiting for warmer and sunnier times, while my children as all young ones test and improve their resistance to life and all its trials in winter weather and school halls according to the old saying “Was Dich nicht umbringt, macht Dich nur stärker”.



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