What is Weiberfastnacht? Women Kick off Karneval!
Karneval or Fasching Season is loaded with parties, parades and fun events. But one special event sticks out… especially for Women! Weiberfastnacht. What is Weiberfastnacht? It’s the start of street Karneval Celebrations! The day when Karneval kicks into high gear! and… it’s a special day for Women to take over!
In 2019 I arrived in Köln on Weiberfastnacht. The city was packed with costumed people celebrating the biggest party I had ever seen!
Let me tell you more….
In 2023, Weiberfastnacht is on February 16th.
What is Weiberfastnacht??
The Thursday before Ash Wednesday, Weiberfastnacht, is an un-official holiday in the Rhineland… and the official beginning of the Street Festival part of Karneval. At 11:11 am, most businesses close, and people take to the streets in costume, and parades begin.
But where does the Weiber (Women) part come in?
Karneval Season turned social rules around. The Upper classes behaved like fools, and the masked lower classes could pretend to be royalty. Upper Class women would mask and go drinking in the streets! (Quite the scandal). But even more “shocking”, nuns spent Karneval days dancing, drinking, and carrying on, and their nights playing cards (presumably while the Abbess was sleeping it off).
Women relished being able to take part in the revelry!
Well…. all except for the Washerwomen. These women worked 16 hour days washing clothes. And during Karneval, they had their regular duties, and ALSO had to deal with the costumes! Extra work that needed to be done quickly so it could be worn again before the end of Karneval! And a bit insulting, since everyone around them was having a fun time.
In 1824 a group of washer women in Beuel finally decided they had enough of this nonsense. They formed their own Karneval committee (Beuel Ladies Committee), and then stormed the Town Hall where they took over the city government. (Since Karneval is a time when government officials are openly caricatured, and a mock government is elected, no one was really mad). Word spread through surrounding communities, and women who were sick of scrubbing shirts while others were enjoying a good party, decided it was time to dump the wash bucket and join in the fun with some storming of their own!
(Presumably, people just bought a few extra shirts, or re-wore dirty ones, so the Washer Women could take the day off. Why they didn’t think of that in the first place is puzzling..)
Today, this “storming of the Beuel Town Hall” by women is shown live on Television… and the takeover of government by women is copied all over North Rhine Westphalia. Women also gather up in groups wearing costumes or masks for a little crazy fun.
Kiss for your Tie
Today we associate Weiberfastnacht with women chopping off ties. Women run around (well, walk, you don’t run with scissors), and chop off the tie of any man silly (or savvy) enough to wear a tie on Weiberfastnacht. Chopping the tie represents taking the man’s power (especially if it’s a Power Tie). In exchange, the man is granted a Bützchen (little kiss). Women can end the day with fistfuls of ties that they wave like trophies!
(side note- Is it just me? or does the kiss seems to negate the removal of power)
“The Kiss for your Tie” tradition is actually a fairly recent in Karneval tradition, dating back to the 1940s. And before anyone starts worrying about consent, it’s customary for both the man and woman to agree before any cutting or Bützen happens. (I’m almost certain that some men go out on Weiberfastnacht with a pocket FULL of ties, and just keep knotting on a new one after every encounter.)
Lt. Col. Michelle Garcia, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Europe District deputy commander, playfully cuts the tie of David Leach, USACE North Atlantic Division programs director. Photo from FLickr commons- courtesy of USACE
When is Weiberfastnacht?
In 2023, Weiberfastnacht is on February 16th. Weiberfastnacht also known as “unsinniger Donnerstag” (silly Thursday) or “schmutzigen Donnerstag” (dirty Thursday…. in this case the “dirty” refers to sin) falls on the Thursday before Ash Wednesday, and is the last week of “fun” before the austerity of Lent Season.
Cologne is the epicenter for Karneval parties and celebrations in Germany! It you decide to participate, bring a costume, and prepare for madness! The celebrating starts early and goes on until late in the evening. I hardly recognized Cologne from my previous visits. Many stores board up windows, and the city protects fountains and statues from out of hand shenanigans.
Then let the party begin!
Still, I never felt that it was unsafe… there is a strong police presence keeping an eye on everyone… and moving people along.
Women Take over the Rathaus (City Hall) In Beuel
It’s a fun staged event… nice to see everyone playing along.
Celebrating Weiberfastnacht in Cologne!