Karneval or Fasching- Here’s how they celebrate the 5th Season!

2023 marked the 200th Anniversary of the Köln Karneval Associations!

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).

what is fasching

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?

what is fasching

The Berliner Wall….

 When Does Fasching Start?

Fasching officially begins on November 11 at 11 minutes after 11 amWhy 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.

Want to celebrate in the United States? Join in the fun with the GAMGA in Las Vegas!

what is Karneval
GAMGA Prinzenpaar Prinz Herb I u. I.L. Prinzessin Gitta I.

Photo by Albertine Feurer of Art of Albertine

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!

what is fasching

Important Karneval Dates for 2022/2023

Weiberfastnacht – February 16, 2023
Rosenmontag- February 20, 2023
Faschingdienstag- February 21,  2023
Aschenmittwoch- February 22, 2023

Karneval Fasching

-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!

So CLOSE! In 2019, I arrived in Cologne at 9PM on Weiberfastnacht… and had to leave Cologne by 2:30 the next afternoon. Mostly I saw preparations.
I will have to try again….

what is fasching

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!

what is weiberfastnacht

One of the unfortunate Weiberfastnacht casualties…. learn more about
Weiberfastnacht here–>Weiberfastnacht

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.


what is 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).

what is fasching

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!!


what is fasching


Join in the Celebrations! Plan a trip to Cologne for Karneval!

what is karneval


Click here for my easy Berliner Recipe

what is fasching

Perfect Party. Fasching, Fastnacht, Karneval: Über 60 Rezepte für närrische Partys. Mit Audio CDPerfect Party. Fasching, Fastnacht, Karneval: Über 60 Rezepte für närrische Partys. Mit Audio CD


Find a Karneval Party in the US!

There are a few Karneval celebrations across the US… find one near you!



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what is fasching


17 thoughts on “Karneval or Fasching- Here’s how they celebrate the 5th Season!

  1. This sounds like such a fun event. I have never heard of it before but I would love to take part in it.

    1. I grew up celebrating Fasching in Germany. It’s been a while since I moved to the States. Looking to see the atmosphere again… Planning a trip making my days fit…. Welcome to join..

  2. But please only in Cologne, because Cologne is home to the best carnival. You can see it in the YouTube movie.
    Koelle alaaf

  3. Thank you for explaining all of this! I was never in Germany for Karneval – or I should say Fastnacht, as I lived in Mainz 🙂 Now I teach German and try to include cultural events. But it’s hard to teach something you’ve never experienced. I’ve done a lot of research, but you really summed it all up beautifully! Danke!!

  4. Thank you for explaining all of this! I was never in Germany for Karneval – or I should say Fastnacht, as I lived in Mainz 🙂 Now I teach German and try to include cultural events. But it’s hard to teach something you’ve never experienced. I’ve done a lot of research, but you really summed it all up beautifully! Danke!!!

  5. As a 3rd generation son of German immigrants, perhaps the whole interest in things German is a bit much, but there’s nowhere else I’d rather be for the “fifth season.” I’ve done Karneval in Koeln, Fastnacht in Mainz, but what I have come to truly love is Fasnet in southwest Germany. The Schwäbisch Alemannisch secret. Bad Waldsee is the place I have been 4 or 5 times and it’s truly a unique experience. Much less commercial, a little more pagan, deeply traditional and so much laughter and fun. The Narren Ruf is “Aha!” and I truly hope to say that again very, very soon!

  6. WOW Karen, you sure done an outstanding job here. Of course when I lived in Germany I went to all the Fastnacht parties. But I have to say, I sure learned so much more from the way you explained Fastnacht here. Vielen lieben Dank.
    BTW, I belonged to a Turnverein for many years. I was pretty good at it. Wished I could still move like that. Happy Fasching everyone. Gigi Hammer.

    1. I would love to see photos of you during your Turnverein days!

  7. This is great, I really want to go. What does “alaaf” mean?

  8. Ja FastNacht war schön. Wir hatten auch Kappen Abend. Jedes Local hat seinen eigenen Kappen Abend. Sie haben Musik und eine Bar und jeder hat verrückte Kappen auf.

  9. This “freedom under the French. No freedom under Prussian” thing is really simplified and does not truly apply here. The French also banned some things, including public carnival events to some degree. And they introduced new burdens like conscription into the French army. Other new things were liked, but the French occupation was hardly universally loved. The militaristic marching and the early 19th century uniforms were introduced to mock French soldiers.

  10. WE lived in the Eifel area near Trier in 1968 (bit before and after. My husband and his best friend went to Munich during the fesitval for a couple of days…. I think they spent the whole time in a beer garden there! Even brought home one of those lg beer steins they served beer in! I was too pregnant to go… and the other guy’s wife had 2 young sons – so we stayed home! Loved, loved Germany! (but didn’t learn very much of the language, as everyone wanted to speak English!

    1. Sounds like a fun trip… next time, you go too!

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