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The fifth season in Germany - Carnival - an explanation!

How Germans celebrate Carnival!

06. Februar 2018 remove_red_eye 614 Views

So what do you think of when you hear costumes and sweets? The answer to that question in the States or Australia would probably be: Halloween!

But not for us Germans/Austrians/Swiss! We have a 5th season that most people wait for the whole year!!

It’s called: Karneval or Fasching depending on the region! And it is usually celebrated before the Lent or Fasting Season (The 6 weeks before Christian Easter Celebration). Although this is not a tradition limited to Germany, in fact many of you may know the famous ‘Mardi Gras’ Celebration in New Orleans or the famous Carnival in Rio de Janeiro, the way we celebrate this special holiday is certainly unique.

Faschingszeit - When does it start?

Officially the time for ‘Fasching/Karneval’ starts every year on November 11th at 11:11am and it ends on the ‘Ash Wednesday’ of the following year. There is a break for the Advent and Christmas time, and a lot of celebrations start in early January. However the most active time of the ‘fifth season’ is the week starting with ‘Gründonnerstag’ in English: ‘Fat Thursday’.

On this day a famous tradition is the ‘Weiberfastnacht’ which translates to ‘women carnival’ and it is said that it all started when women in 1824 ‘stormed’ the town hall in Bonn to have their own carnival committee. Until today, there is still a symbolic storm of the town hall broadcasted on TV and women all around are cutting the ends of men’s ties as a sign of ‘cutting’ their status.

In the following days, especially on ‘Rose Monday’ and ‘Shrove Tuesday’, there are many parades, big balls and parties celebrated everywhere in Germany and also Austria. Depending on the region it will also be a holiday or a day when people get off from work earlier.

Two different origins - one celebration

Earlier it was mentioned that the carnival season is called differently. There is a reason why and it goes way back into the old days.

While generally most of the different traditions go back to the times (13th century) when food was something with high value and difficult to store and to have access to during winter time, people were celebrating the time before lent with eating a lot of perishable food and the last bits of meat.

In the north-west part of Germany, also called the Rhineland region, the tradition of carnival started to change around the early 19th century and was used to express their critical thoughts on the French and Prussians through parodies and mockery. They have many local traditions for costumes, parades etc and even the dutch carnival was influenced by them. The special costumes in these area are jester hats and uniforms that were seen as parodies of important occupations, such as soldiers.

In the southern part of Germany, mostly Bavaria, Baden - Württemberg, Alsace and the german-speaking parts of Switzerland and Austria, carnival is more often called ‘Fasching or Fastnacht’ because of its slightly different origins. While in the Rhine Region people from the educated middle class developed a new kind of carnival, called ‘Karneval’, people in the southern part went back to the roots of the middle ages. They focused more on the traditional costumes and reasons for carnival, that were passed down by earlier generations. So the typical costumes in these regions focus more on the traditional ones, that were already used in the old times, examples are: demons, jesters, witches and more.

Parade von Oben

Fasching/Karneval Parade

General Things about Carnival

All in all most people tend to get costumes, dressing up as whatever they want (similar to Halloween costume choices). So you will see kids running around as princesses, fairies, police officers or just any other cute costumes you can imagine.

During parades there will be usually candy thrown out to the children and special adult treats for the grown-ups. Everyone enjoys themselves with watching the parades and good music. The parades usually consist of various huge wagons according to the theme of the particular group, marching bands and dance groups.

The groups are usually clubs or unions, that have been formed decades ago or might be just newly created. Every year before the 5th season starts, they come together and plan a theme for their group and wagon (which is not a must!). The themes can vary and is usually determined by whatever movie was very popular that year. Traditional themes like the witches in the southern parts, animals and fantasy characters or even any political action that has happened and caused displeasure under the people, can also be the theme. Normally the last one includes mocking the politicians responsible for the action then and it is seen as the way of the people to let their voices been heard.

Hopefully you can get a little impression of what it feels like to be in Germany (or Austria/Switzerland) during Carnival Season, with the videos down below!

The start of the 'Faschingsparade' in Munich, Bavaria:

Impressions of the 'Kraneval' in Cologne (check out the wagons at the end!):

Check out the creativity for this parade:


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