WIESBADEN, Germany - It's that time of the year again. Germany is celebrating its "fifth season" -- Fasching season or Fastnacht season. Take your Halloween costume out of the closet again, and get ready to shout "Helau!" as loud as you can.
Every February, Fasching gets into full swing with big parades on the streets and fairs to celebrate the beginning of the Lenten season.
Köln, Düsseldorf and Mainz are Germany's Fasching capitals. Although Fasching season officially starts in November, the big parties start in February -- this year on Thursday, Feb. 26 -- when women dress up in funny costumes and carry pairs of scissors to cut off mens' ties, literally cutting off the symbol of mens' power. Many companies end their workdays on that day around noon to allow their female workers to go out on the streets, cut off as many ties as they can and celebrate at a bar. The day is widely known as "Weiberfastnacht" (old woman's Fasching).
On Friday, the so-called Soot Friday, children were traditionally allowed to smear soot on people's faces. However, this custom is not practiced much anymore in the Rhein-Main area.
Saturday brings the first big parades to the cities. Residents of U.S. Army Garrison Wiesbaden are lucky, because they have easy access to the Fasching festivities in two German cities -- Wiesbaden and Mainz.
The city of Wiesbaden celebrates its "Kinderfest" on Saturday, March 2, followed by a parade for the younger generation. The parade runs through the downtown pedestrian area beginning at 2:11 p.m.
On Sunday, Mainz focuses more on its surrounding communities and districts, which hold their parades on that day. Meanwhile, people gather in the downtown Wiesbaden area again to watch the Fasching parade, starting at 1:11 p.m., at Elsässer Platz. The pedestrian area in front of the city hall and Wilhelmstrasse are good places to watch the parade, but those places also tend to be very crowded. The parade consists of floats that usually mock and poke fun at national and international politicians or topics, but it also includes marching bands and troops on foot. You may want to bring a large bag with you, because parade participants toss small toys and candy into the crowd.
The high point of the festivities is "Rosenmontag," or Rose Monday. The Rosenmontag parade in Mainz is one of the biggest in the country and features almost 10,000 participants from Mainz and other European cities. The first time this parade was held was in 1838. The parade starts at 11:11 a.m. and runs about 7.2 kilometers through the downtown area. Good places to watch are at Schillerplatz and in front of the Mainz State Theater, however, these are also the most crowded places.
Some examples of funny parade participants are the so-called "Schwellkoepp" (swollen heads), which are large heads modeled after famous characters from Fasching history. When you see them, keep in mind that the person underneath the head is carrying 25 kilograms (around 50 pounds) on a 7.2-kilometer (4.5-mile) march through the city.
In order to fit in with the crowd, make sure to yell the word "Helau" ("Hell-OW") every once in a while. After the parade, you can finish off the day with a visit to the market place in front of the cathedral where there will be a large fair with carousels, bratwurst and even more candy.
Fasching is about being happy and getting ready for Lenten season, which starts on Ash Wednesday, March 6 this year, when all festivities finally come to an end. So make sure to dress up, eat some comfort food and enjoy the fun that the Rhein Main area has to offer during this fifth season.