Germany celebrates Fasching with masquerade balls, parades

by Petra Lessoing 86th Airlift Wing Public Affairs

Photo by Stefan Layes
During a “Prunksitzung,” meaning “pomp session,” performers hold funny speeches or present dances. Ramstein’s Fasching association, Bruchkatze, is scheduled to have its first fun session at 7:31 p.m. Jan. 28 at Haus des Buergers in Ramstein.

People who like to dress up in fancy dresses or costumes and be somebody else have until Feb. 28 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 at 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 taking place during the fifth season that ends on Ash Wednesday, which is March 1 this year.

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, allowing Fasching celebrations to officially start.

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 and posters, in advertisements and newspapers or through social media. 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 Fasching 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 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.

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” is “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,” meaning “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 in creative costumes going through towns.

The Ramstein Carnival Association Bruchkatze will sponsor the biggest parade in the Westpfalz area Feb. 28 and offer its first pomp session at 7:31 p.m. Jan. 28 at Haus des Buergers in Ramstein.

Courtesy photo
Fasching parade participants toss candy to people watching along the streets in Ramstein-Miesenbach. This year’s parade will be held Feb. 28.
Photo by Senior Airman Timothy Moore
Members of the U.S. Air Forces in Europe Band interact with the crowd Feb. 17, 2015, during the Fasching parade in Ramstein-Miesenbach. The USAFE Band and approximately 1,400 other participants marched in the parade for more than two hours, entertaining the local crowd.