Fasching: Germans celebrate ‘crazy’ season

Petra Lessoing
Kaiserslautern American

***image1***This is the time when Germans celebrate their “5th season,” the crazy season. It’s called Fastnacht, Fasching or Karneval, depending on the different areas of Germany. In the Pfalz it’s called “Fassenacht” or “Fastnacht,” in Bavaria it’s “Fasching,” and in Cologne it’s “Karneval.”

But its purpose is the same: people put on costumes and celebrate. There are parties, dance balls, costume fests, funny speeches and parades.

Fasching officially starts at 11:11 a.m. on the 11th day of the 11th month, which is Nov. 11, and ends on Ash Wednesday which this year is March 1.

Up to this day, many Fasching events are scheduled. Very popular are masquerade balls and Fasching dances. Visitors are asked to dress up in costumes, change their outward appearance and play a different role than in everyday life. In many places, a higher admission fee is getting charged if they are not in disguise.

The “Prunksitzung,” which literally translated means pomp session, is another famous event sponsored by carnival clubs.

Amateur comedians hold, in their local dialect, humorous speeches spiced with sarcasm about local happenings, people or politics in general.
There are also carnival club members singing and performing dances. A committee consisting of a president and 11 counselors are watching the session from their seats in the back of the stage. After each performance, committee members present medals to the performers.

Carnival clubs also have a Fastnacht princess or prince. Every year a new princess or prince is elected and usually at New Year’s Night she or he is crowned.

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 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 described the time of celebrations before Lent, when people had to renounce meat, opulent meals and festivities.

The main days of the carnival season are Altweiberfasching (old women’s fasching) on Feb. 23, Rose Monday on Feb. 27 and Fat Tuesday on Feb. 28.

Rose Monday is known for colorful parades with floats, musicians, dancers and walking groups going through towns and cities. The most famous parades are in Mainz, Düsseldorf and Cologne. The biggest parade in the Westpfalz area is the one in Ramstein-Miesenbach Feb. 28.

There is no parade in Kaisers-lautern, but next to Stiftskirche, a stage will be set up, where local carnival club members and city officials present funny entertainment with singing and dancing. Everybody in the audience can join, take the next person’s arm and see-saw (rock) to original Fasching music.

On Ash Wednesday, the last get-together of Fasching lovers and carnival association members is the traditional “Heringsessen” — eating of herring as a symbol for the meatless time of Lent starting.