Celebrating the crazy season

by Petra Lessoing
86th Airlift Wing Public Affairs

People who like to dress up in fancy dresses or costumes and be somebody else have three and a half weeks left to do so. They can do it as long as Germany celebrates its “fifth season” or “crazy season.” Different areas in Germany have different names for this season of disguise, being crazy and wild, cheering up and having fun. In the Pfalz it’s called “Fassenacht” or “Fastnacht,” in Bavaria it’s “Fasching” and in the Cologne area it’s “Karneval.”

The fifth season officially begins 11:11 a.m. on the 11th day of the 11th month. Carnival clubs and associations start preparations for all kinds of events, including street parades that take place during the fifth season that ends Ash Wednesday, which this year is Feb. 22.

Traditionally, in the first week of the new year, carnival clubs crown their new Fastnacht princess or prince. The mayor hands them the keys to the city or village and thus the executive power. Fasching celebrations officially can start now.

 Typical celebrations and events include the “Maskenball” (masquerade ball), “Faschingstanz” (Fasching dance), “Kinderfasching” (children’s fasching party) and “Prunksitzung” (pomp session). They are announced on signs, posters, or in advertisements in newspapers. The fifth season features parties, dances, funny speeches and parades. Visitors of public Fasching events are encouraged to dress up in costumes. If they are not in disguise, they have to pay a higher admission fee when entering events in community halls, culture centers, sports gyms and other facilities. Some organizations conduct “best costumes contests” and hand out prizes.

Customarily, women do not need a male escort when going to a Fasching dance. It’s even up to them to ask the men for a dance ― and the men better not say no.
A typical Fasching event is the “Prunksitzung,” which literally translated means pomp session. Carnival associations usually sponsor and organize this event. Amateur comedians hold, in their local dialect, humorous speeches spiced with sarcasm about local happenings, people or politics in general. In between speeches, carnival club members sing and present dances. A committee consisting of a president and 11 counselors watch the session from their seats in the back of the stage.

Fastnacht has its origin in ancient times, when people realized that with the start of a new year, spring would soon be on its way. To make it possible for spring to arrive, the demons of winter had to be chased away. Therefore, people dressed in evil-looking costumes and masks. They danced in the streets looking like devils, demons and witches and used noise-making devices, bells and drums to scare away the winter ghosts.

Through the centuries, the season developed into a Christian ritual. The literal translation of the word “Fastnacht” means “night of fasting.” Today, it’s the time of merriment and laughter preceding Lent, the 40-day period before Easter.

The word Karneval also refers to the fasting period. The Latin expression “carne vale” means “farewell, meat” and describes the time of celebrations before Lent when people have to renounce meat, opulent meals and festivities. The main days of the carnival season are Altweiberfasching (Old Women’s Fasching) on Feb. 16, Rose Monday on Feb. 20 and Fat Tuesday on Feb. 21.

Rose Monday is known for its colorful parades with floats, musicians, dancers and walking groups. Ramstein-Miesenbach is known for hosting the biggest parade in the Westpfalz. This year’s parade takes place Feb. 21.

The local carnival association Bruchkatze, which sponsors the parade, is still looking for American participants. Walking groups, bands and individuals dressed in funny costumes can take part. To register, call the 86th Airlift Wing Host Nation Office at 480-2094.