ESCHENBACH, Germany -- Wearing an intricate cardboard and tin foil replica of the Upper Atmosphere Research Satellite, John Chatterly, 11, tried not to bump against his fellow students' delicate satellite costumes.

Chatterly and the rest of his fifth-grade class had devoted the past few weeks to studying space and the objects within it to prepare for Netzaberg Elementary School's Fasching parade, here, Feb. 8.

"The UARS went up in 1991 and fell back in 2011," Chatterly quipped without hesitation. Clearly the studying has paid off.

For the past five years and seven years, respectively, NES and Grafenwoehr Elementary students have put on a Fasching parades.

Many cultures celebrate Carnival, the days of revelry and indulgence that lead up to Lent's 40 days of holy abstention and refrain.

The Germans call the festivities "Fasching" and celebrate with grand parades where both the paraders and spectators dress in elaborate costumes.

Each year on USAG Grafenwoehr, the schools pick a theme around which to fashion their parade. This year, NES saluted "our amazing universe."

"Not only does our parade support local culture, but we've turned it into an event that supports our curriculum. It's a hands-on opportunity for the kids to connect with the curriculum," said fifth-grade teacher David Simm, the mastermind behind the Fasching parades at both Netzaberg and Grafenwoehr Elementary Schools.

Prior to parade day at NES, each class, from kindergarten to fifth grade, discussed different aspects of the universe to decide the celestial theme of their costumes.

The younger students represented cosmic fundamentals like stars and planets, while Simm's fifth-graders tackled more complex bodies, such as satellites, robots and extraterrestrial life.
Simm and his students discussed how life adapts to its environment.

"We talked about the possibility of life outside the universe and they dressed as they thought an alien would look," said Simm.

The fourth-graders got creative with their costumes. Taking what they knew about planets and the solar system, they devised their own space-themed candy.

Sydney Bisha, 10, painted eight planetary lollipops on her sandwich-board costume, boasting flavors like "Mango Mercury," "Very Lemony Venus" and "Cotton Candy Earth." Classmate Weyatta Kpinkpin, 10, concocted a "Saturn Ring Pop." The ingredients: Moon, galaxy and Milky Way dust.

The Netzaberg Middle School band kicked off the Netzaberg Elementary parade, playing Mardi Gras music as they led the way for the younger students. Their tunes competed with other Mardi Gras music blasting from oversized speakers on the playground, which maintained a party atmosphere for students and spectators.

As they marched around the school, the students brought life to their cosmic forms. Dressed as stars, one kindergarten class sang "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star" and Griselda Ready's third-grade moonwalkers moonwalked, taking long leaps forward like Neil Armstrong, instead of gliding backwards like Michael Jackson.

Four days later on Feb. 12, Grafenwoehr Elementary School hosted its annual Fasching parade despite sub-zero temperatures.

"The weather was a challenge this year," said Elfriede Kean, who has been the school's host nation teacher for the past 31 years and began the school's parade tradition seven years ago.

Kean said this year's parade might have been held indoors had the temperature dipped much lower. As it stood, organizers shortened the route, cutting out stops at the commissary and Exchange.

However, the temperatures weren't cold enough to dampen students' spirit.

Kean said the school was buzzing with excitement as students put the finishing touches on their costumes just hours before the parade. The entire school gathered in the auditorium as teachers and students got fired up by dancing and singing "The Hokey Pokey," "Chicken Dance" and "If You're Happy and you Know it."

Then, Benno Englhart, a music teacher in Grafenwoehr, along with a volunteer band, kicked off the parade with "When the Saints go Marching in."

Students, teachers and even parents joined in the festive fun, donning Venetian style masks, parading as storybook characters and even creative costumes focusing on math which seemed to defy logic. Kean said students started developing ideas and creating the costumes four weeks prior to the parade.

"It doesn't take a great costume (when) the spirit is there," Kean said. "It's worth every gray hair I got out of organizing it."

Back at NES, host nation teacher Manuela Bergosh dressed as the sun. In class, she tells her students about Fasching customs and the tradition of scaring away winter spirits with costumes and festivals. But, the parade is the apex of their studies.

"For them, most of the time, it's the first opportunity to see a Fasching parade. It's a great opportunity to be in it," said Bergosh. "They'll never forget it if they celebrate it themselves."

Editor's Note: Jeremy S. Buddemeier, U.S. Army Garrison Grafenwoehr Public Affairs, contributed reporting.