GRAFENWOEHR, Germany AcE+' Superman sauntered across the gymnasium floor at Grafenwoehr Elementary School, Feb. 16, followed by a gypsy, a princess, a pirate and Barbie, complete with pink hair. This motley crew represented Pearl Clark's third-grade class, which was more than ready for the annual Fasching parade.

"It's going to be a good one," said 7-year-old Josephine Blackham. "Looking around at all the costumes, I can tell."

Many are familiar with the idea of Mardi Gras, but the revelry associated with the period before Lent goes by an entirely different name here in Germany.

Known as "Fasching," the tradition dates back to the 13th century, although modern German festivities were more formally organized during the last two centuries. Numerous villages and cities in Germany celebrate with food, drink, dancing, singing, floats, and of course, parades.

After studying about the tradition of Fasching in the weeks leading up to the celebration, Grafenwoehr students joined in the merry-making fun for their final lesson.

"People all over march in parades and have fun around this time of year so that's what we're going to do," said fifth-grader Morrice Smith, draped in his clown ensemble, accented with a multicolored wig and matching red nose. "We learned that this celebration takes place in American and Germany. We are a lot alike."

Principal Crystal Bailey agreed.

"This event is a connection between our two countries," said Bailey. "The kids have worked hard to prepare for this and the community came out to support their efforts."

The Musikschule of Pressath-Grafenwoehr kicked off the parade with traditional carnival music and more than 250 pairs of feet moved to the beat. Strolling down Gettysburg Avenue, students waved at passers-by, sang songs and flaunted their elaborate costumes.

"It's good for the children to learn about this old German tradition," said host nation teacher
Elfriede Kean. "They were so excited for this event and it's great to see so many people here, encouraging them."

Soldiers from the Noncommissioned Officer Academy and the military police station provided support and marched with the students. Grafenwoehr Mayor Helmuth Waechter delighted participants with his Uncle Sam costume and the garrison fire department flashed bright lights and guided children safely through the streets.

Additionally, Capt. Ronald Underwood, commander of Headquarters and Headquarters Company, showed his support and represented the command during the parade.

"This is something fun for the kids," said Underwood. "It shows they care a great deal about their community and learning about the traditions."

"This is where I live now, so it's good to learn things about where you are," said fourth-grade student Jayden Gordon, "especially when it's fun."

The parade lasted nearly an hour as students marched with signs, donned masks and held on tightly to festive balloons. They waved both German and American flags proudly in the sea of colorful decorations.

After having completed his very first parade, kindergartner Cooper Hughes adjusted the bear mask covering his eyes and announced, "This is the best Fasching parade ever."