Fasching known as ‘crazy’ season – Scary costumes, noise chase away winter demons in ancient times

Petra Lessoing
Kaiserslautern American

“Maskenball” (masquerade ball) or “Faschingstanz” (Fasching dance) –  these are the events being announced at this time of year on signs, posters on doors of stores, or in advertisements in newspapers in Kaiserslautern and villages of the KMC. It’s Fasching season, also known as the “crazy season” or “fifth season.” There are parties, dances, funny speeches and parades. It’s a time for being crazy and wild, cheering up, having fun and the most important factor, it’s the time to disguise. Visitors of 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 community halls, culture centers, sports gyms and gasthouses. The best costumes are awarded prizes at some events.

During Fasching, women do not need a male escort when going to a dance. It’s even up to them to ask the men for a dance.

***image1***Depending on the area, the “fifth season” has different names: in the Pfalz it’s called “Fassenacht” or “Fastnacht,” in Bavaria it’s “Fasching” and in the Cologne area it’s “Karneval.”

Fasching officially begins 11:11 a.m. on the 11th day of the 11th month and ends Ash Wednesday, which this year is Feb. 21.

A typical Fasching event is the “Prunksitzung,” which literally translated means pomp session. Traditionally, carnival associations 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. After each performance, committee members present medals to the performers.

Carnival clubs are represented by a Fastnacht princess or prince. Every year, a new princess or prince is elected and usually gets crowned the night of New Year’s Eve. Usually, the mayor hands them the keys to the city and thus the executive power.

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) Feb. 15, Rose Monday on Feb. 19 and Fat Tuesday on Feb. 20.

Rose Monday is known for colorful parades with floats, musicians, dancers and walking groups in creative costumes going through towns.

The biggest parade in the Westpfalz area is in Ramstein-Miesenbach Feb. 20.

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 and for more information, call the 435th Air Base Wing Host Nation Office at 480-2094.