Karneval or Fasching- Here’s how they celebrate the 5th Season!
2023 marks the 200th Anniversary of the Köln Karneval Associations!
The Party will be ENORMOUS this Year!
What is Fasching? And is it the same thing as Karneval? YES! Karneval / Fasching / Fastnacht all refer to the pre-Lent season, and is referred to as the Fifth Season in German speaking countries. Think of this time as the German version of Mardi Gras. The celebrations date back hundreds of years, rooted in both Catholic and early-Germanic traditions. It’s a time to let go of inhibitions and rules before the imposed restrictions of Lent kick in. During Karneyval season ou’ll see costumes and silly behavior. Narren take charge, and Princes Princesses appear in fancy dress. You can stuff yourself with filled Krapfen/Berliner! And there are funny hats. And as baffling as it may seem… there’s a reason for all of it.
Karneval Season Officially begins on November 11…. then resumes after the Christmas Season until the party comes to a crescendo on Faschingdienstag (Karneval Tuesday).
Cologne is where they celebrate the hardest! The whole city battens down the hatches (and covers show windows with plywood), and goes NUTS!
What is Fasching aka Karneval?
Winter can be long and cold in Germany. In pagan times, the end of Winter was celebrated, and the Winter demons would be chased away with loud noise and celebration. But then along comes Lent, a 40 day period of Fasting before Easter Sunday. The biggest Karneval celebrations arose between Winter and Lent. Starting on Weiberfastnacht, the Thursday before Ash Wednesday people cut loose! Feasting, frivolity, parades, parties, and lots of drinking. Fried foods like Berliner/Krapfen are everywhere because during Lent, fried foods are forbidden (Karneval… or Carne Vale… is latin for “without meat”).
Much to the Church’s frustration celebrations continued through the Middle Ages, with people celebrating and carrying on. Most people wear costumes and masks which allow participants to hide their identity so they can really cut loose without fear of being identified.
In Cologne, the Upper Classes celebrated as well, in a more “civilized” manner. They copied the elegant masquerade balls of Venice. (No drinking on the streets for the wealthy merchants!)
But the Fifth Season begins in November? How does it all tie together?
The Berliner Wall….
When Does Fasching Start?
Fasching officially begins on November 11 at 11 minutes after 11 am, Why is November 11 so important? After the French Revolution, the French under Napoleon controlled part of the Rhineland from 1801 to 1813. Their motto – “ Egalität, Legalität, Fraternität” (Equality, Liberty, Fraternity). Take the first letter of each word E, L, F and you have elf, the number 11.
Under the French, citizens in Germany were awarded more political freedoms. And they were allowed to keep the Karneval parties and parades (the French do love a party). But along came the Prussians who chased the French out. The Prussians were quite serious, and disapproved of frivilous behaviors. The citizens lost many of the freedoms they enjoyed under the French. But being German, they did it in an organized manner.
Karneval gets Organized
In Cologne they used Karneval act out democratic rights from behind a mask. By 1823, the first Karneval committees were formed. In many cities, a mock government of 11 Fools or Elferrat (there’s that 11 again) is elected to oversee the pageantry. A Prince and Princess are also chosen to “rule” over the events. Parades, Balls and dancing in the street happen in almost every town in Germany. In Cologne, they elect The Dreigestirn, (virgin, prince and farmer).
The costumes and masks allowed the common people to mock their kings and princes without fear of reprisal. Comical skits, speeches and plays were quite common. This is a time of wild abandon… of chasing fears and flaunting authority.
And from there… things just grew! Today there are many Karneval Fasching societies, that can basically be divided into a few types of groups.
– The Corps Societies- This group wears uniforms that are a caricature of the military uniforms of the early 1800s.
-The Committee Societies- This group wears matching jackets, and is mostly responsible for setting up events and activities.
-The Sitzungen Society- A group who bridges the time between Nov. 11 and Weiberfastnacht with programs.
Today in Cologne, the heart of Karneval, there are over 160 Karneval societies hosting hundreds of events during the 5th Season. Parades including big floats, high flighing Tanzmariechen, and colorful costumes meander through the city for all to enjoy!
Important Karneval Dates for 2022/2023
Weiberfastnacht – February 16, 2023
Rosenmontag- February 20, 2023
Faschingdienstag- February 21, 2023
Aschenmittwoch- February 22, 2023
-Different names for the same celebration. What is Karneval/Fasching called in different areas of Germany?
Karneval in the “Rheinland” (Rhineland) area
Fastnacht around the city of Mainz (‘fasting night’, or eve of Lent, the period of fasting)
Fasnet in Swabia (south-west region of Germany) and in the southwest of the state of Bavaria
Fosnat in the Franken region (northern Bavaria)
Fasching around the city of “München” (Munich) and in Austria
Kölner Karneval – Das Erlebnis
After seeing this… I HAVE to go!
I will have to try again….
In 2024 Easter Falls on March 31
Weiberfastnacht February 8, 2024
Rosenmontag February 12, 2024
Fastnachtdienstag February 13, 2024
Regardless of when Fasching or Karneval begins, the most of the celebrations take place during the week leading up to Ash Wednesday, and the beginning of Lent. (Remember… Lent is the 40 days BEFORE Easter, not counting Sunday…. And the date of Easter is always the first Sunday after the first full moon after the Vernal Equinox.
The Thursday before Ash Wednesday, (Weiberfastnacht) is when things really go crazy!
One of the unfortunate Weiberfastnacht casualties…. learn more about
The primary celebration days for Fasching / Karneval are-
Elften Elften um Elf Uhr Elf– The official opening of Fasching! In cities like Cologne, the elected “Mock” government and the Prince and Princess begin to rule over the events.
For the next 3 months, there are Karneval parties, but things are a bit more low key until…… the TOLLE TAGE
Weiberfastnacht– (The Thursday BEFORE Ash Wednesday). This is Ladies Karneval day, and in some communities it begins with Women taking over City Hall (not a bad idea). Any man caught wearing a tie (a symbol of manhood) may have it cut off…. YIKES! Or he may get a kiss. The day ends with costumes and parties.
Saturday and Sunday during this week are prime time for Karneval Balls and Fasching Parties!
Rosenmontag– (Rose Monday)- This is the big Parade day. All over the Rhineland massive parades are held in celebration of Karneval.
Rosenmontag Parade Cologne- Wikipedia commons photo by Rolf Hahn
Fastnachtdiesnstag– (Shrove Tuesday) – The party can only go until midnight, because then it’s Ash Wednesday, and time for austerity. There may be some parties or parades, but the day ends with the burning of the Nubbel, a life sized straw doll, that holds all of the sins committed during Karneval Season. (Sort of a scape goat… once it’s burned, all the sins you may have committed while under the drunken influence of Karneval Revelry are forgiven).
While Carnival in Rio may be bigger, and Mardi Gras in New Orleans may be better known in the United States, Fasching or Karneval Celebrations across Germany, Austria and Switzerland are just as wild and exciting…. And just as fun a Party!!
There are a few Karneval celebrations across the US… find one near you!