Germany’s fifth season: Everything you need to know about Fasching

By USAG Bavaria PAOJanuary 25, 2024

(Photo Credit: U.S. Army) VIEW ORIGINAL

GRAFENWOEHR, Germany – That crazy time in Germany is underway. Fasching is a pre-Lent celebration like Mardi Gras or Carnival. In northern Germany, they call it Fastnacht or Karneval, but Fasching is the most common name in Bavaria.

Although the carnival season officially begins Nov. 11 at 11:11 a.m., February is the time when all of Germany goes crazy and the true celebration begins.

Fasching is celebrated just before the fasting season of Lent, which is when many people will forsake food as a sacrifice for religious reasons. Therefore, Fasching is the time to indulge, celebrate, and embrace all that is good before things are out of bounds during Lent.

Within Germany the city of Cologne (Köln) is probably most known for its carnival celebration. But you don’t have to travel far because many cities celebrate Fasching with their own celebrations.

Fasching can be documented back to pre-Roman times. The masks and costumes of today date back to medieval times when they were not in place as fun decorations but as ways to avoid punishment and persecution as carnival goers would mock the strict rulers of the day, had they not used masks to disguise themselves they would have been caught and death would have been inevitable.

Here is everything you need to know about celebrating Fasching like a true German:

  • Costumes and Fasching Parties and Balls 

Fasching is very much a time where everyone, and especially children, dress up in costumes and have fun at Fasching parties, parades and balls. Fasching parties range from all ages. Typically, schools host their own parties and area communities also offer a variety of Fasching events as well.

  • Fasching Parades  

Many cities host their own Fasching parade where different clubs, such as the Fire Department, has their own float. Each year parades have a different motto and typically showcases Funkenmariechen dancers, a brass band, and the city’s prince and princess of fools. During the parade participants throw candy to children from floats while shouting “Narrenrufe.”

  • Narrenrufe 

Narrenrufe or “the call of the fool” is the collective name of the various Carnival greetings that people call out to each other in the street during carnival season.

Each city/region/village tends to have its own greeting, so it is good to learn your local Narrenruf to join the fun. Alaaf” is used more frequently in northern Germany, while “Helau” is the right one for Bavaria. For example:

  • Kaiserslautern says “Kalau!” 
  • Wiesbaden and nearby Mainz say “Helau!”  
  • Cologne’s shouts “Alaaf!”

  • Funkenmariechen 

Funkenmariechen or “Sparkling Maries” are dancers found at every Carnival, parades and performances. Most Carnival Clubs have their own dance troop.

They date back to the time when Napoleon controlled part of the Rhineland (1801-1813). In the beginning men dressed up as woman, with costumes resembling the uniforms of the Napoleon Army, and participated in the Rosenmontag Parade to bring fun and joy. They were so popular that they returned the following year and again and again. Over time, women took over the role as Funkenmariechen and unorganized entertainment turned into choreographed dance shows.

  • Prince and Princess of the Fools 

Because the current government is made fun of during the carnival period, in some regions a prince and princess are appointed to rule over fools during Fasching.

The Carnival Prince together with his co-rulers, if any, is considered the symbol of the foolish rule of the respective carnival, shrovetide and carnival stronghold.

Important days:

  • Altweiber Fastnacht 

The ‘Woman’s Carnival’ which happens on the Thursday before Ash Wednesday, also known as Altweiber Fastnacht. This is a special day for woman starts in the morning where masked women take over cities and symbolically take the key of the town hall from the mayor. 
Another Weiberfasching ritual is to cut men’s ties. Men, be prepared: Bring a pair of scissors to work or don’t wear your most expensive tie. 
The day ends with Weiber-Fasching-Parties, festivities in which men dress up as women. Some parties won’t allow men not dressed the part to enter. While men dress up as women and many women dress up as men, this is not mandatory. Women can wear any other costume.

  • Rosenmontag 

Rosenmontag or Rose Monday is what comes next; this is a major highlight for many dancers, marching bands and float parades and the streets filled with entertainment for all. These days the masks mentioned are more extravagant and more modern with the faces of politicians and prolific figures caricaturized upon them. You will also be able to find fancy balls and other events that involve dance performances along with a dancefloor to try your own luck during intermissions.

  • Fastnachtdienstag 

The celebrations come to an end on Ash Wednesday but prior to this is the much sought-after Shrove Tuesday or Fastnachtdienstag in German. This is another great opportunity to attend one of the costume balls that are held all over Germany. It’s also the day most German school children either have the day off or attend school in a costume.

You can find a list of local events in your area here.