Witchy women hit the streets for Fasching

by Petra Lessoing
Kaiserslautern American

***image2***Hey ladies, it’s time to get witchy.

As the crazy season of Fasching reaches its peak with parties and dances until Ash Wednesday, Feb. 6, one of the most important Fasching days is “Altweiberfasching” − literally meaning, “old women’s Fasching.”

It’s the day specifically reserved for women during the “fifth season.” The event is observed the Thursday before Rose Monday.

Traditionally, females dress as old women or witches. They gather up, walk down the streets, sing songs and in some towns they storm the town halls. They constantly look for victims – men wearing neck ties. As soon as they see a man with a tie – on the street, in a store, in an office − they “attack,”  which means they cut his tie in half.

On this day, women might ask a man to either buy her a drink or lose the tie, or she cuts the tie and kisses the man. Women are allowed to act crazy that day and have fun without their “better halves.”

The tradition of women participating in Fasching goes back to the 15th century. Then,  priests complained about the exchange of clothes between women and men.

In 1558, the city council of Überlingen at Lake Constance prohibited women’s Fasching celebrations in female taverns and dormitories, because of women’s “indecent behavior.” But, the women said they had the right to have fun during specific Fasching days. And, they did.

Altweiberfasching also marks the status of women in the 15th and 16th century. Wives had well-defined rights, since they were the budget keepers. During the crazy season they sat in judgment of other women who didn’t clean the house or didn’t take care of the children. Later, in several towns in Southern Germany, it became customary to sit in judgment of men. Women usually met in the conference rooms of town halls. This started the tradition of “storming” town halls on Altweiberfasching.

***image1***In the 17th century, in the Münstertal valley in the Alsace area in France, women walked through the streets with a decorated billygoat, which symbolized fertility, and a horse carrying two kegs of wine. Men weren’t even allowed to observe this event from their windows. If a man risked entering a tavern, where females celebrated, he was captured or his hat was taken away from him and he had to buy it to get it back.

In Köln, which is one of the main locations to celebrate Altweiberfasching and street carnival, women started protesting against the male government in the 1880s. The three most important persons of Fasching in Köln – the prince, the peasant and the virgin (who is actually a man dressed like a woman)  – officially open Köln’s street carnival. At that time, the lord mayor calls out the official carnival shout “Kölle Alaaf,” which signals women to start their “hunt.”

In Ramstein-Miesenbach, at 11:11 a.m. Thursday, women in disguise will storm the Rathaus (town hall) and capture the men. They’ll take them outdoors and tie them to the “Narrenbrunnen,” fool’s fountain. Then they cut their neck ties. For a fee of €1.11 or more, captives will be set free.