Fasching, Karneval, Fastnacht

photo Courtesy of German Pulse

Fasching

Karneval

Fastnacht

Whatever you want to call it, they all mean the same thing, well almost the same thing - party time in Germany!  As if the Germans required yet another excuse to party and drink, the beginning of the year is known as Karneval season.  Officially, Karneval season begins on November 11 at 11:11 in the morning.  11/11 at 11:11.  Oh, and did I mention that it is presided over by a Council of 11?  Those cheeky Germans.

However, due to all the other festivities that happen at the end of the year (ahem, the Christmas markets....), Karneval is not really celebrated.  Come January though, all bets are off and Karneval season really gets into high gear.  It all comes to a head the weekend before Ashwednesday, I mean Ash Wednesday (my brain is turning German and mashing words together on it's own).  From Thursday - Tuesday, parades, celebrations and parties are held all over the country, but it is much more popular in the towns along the Rhine river (so, Western Germany).

photo courtesy of the German Embassy

Karneval is uniquely German, but can best be described as being a mix between Mardi Gras and Halloween (well, as we know them in the States).  Remember back in October how Aaron and I dressed up and went to a Halloween party, just to be the only ones in (non-zombie, non-scary) costume?  Well, apparently Karneval is the time to wear costumes in Germany.  They are everywhere.  Adults and kids all dress up.  There are parades, candy, booze (probably a lot of it) and general frivolity.  

And this weekend, Aaron and I are going to be participating in not one, not two, but THREE Karneval parades!  One of Aaron's co-workers invited us to go with his group of friends.  And guys, the parade float is INTENSE!  It's a pirate ship, but you'll have to check back next week for pictures.  Everyone on the float will be dressed as a pirate and there will be a candy launcher.  With something like 500 kilos of candy.  According to this website, that would be worth $150,000 if it was cocaine.  Don't worry, it's just candy though.  And with the launcher, let's just say they're going to make it rain candy.  I can't wait!

So, now for some Karneval traditions and facts:

stuffing my face with a delicious berliner!

  • The Berliner.  While these are available year-round, they up the anty around Karneval.  Typically only available in one or two flavors, the selection expands exponentially.  If you are from southeastern Michigan, you will know Berliners well.  Why? Because they are the exact same thing as a Paczki.  But tell a German that and they will look at you like you're crazy.  Despite being RIGHT NEXT DOOR to the birthplace of the paczki, they have no idea what it is (I had a conversation about this with one of my colleague).  Nonetheless, I am happy that I get to celebrate Fat Tuesday with one of these bajillion calorie laden, fruit filled, sugar coated, gifts from heaven.  Oh and the Bavarian cream ones so popular in the States? Yea, they don't exist over here.  They don't even know what Bavarian cream is.
  • The word Fashing literally means the last alcoholic drink before fasting.  I'm surprised the Germans survive this period of extended sobriety.  Or maybe they don't follow it anymore.  My guess is it's the latter.
  • Fastnacht means, loosely, ''fast night'' and is the night before the 40 day period of Lent that traditionally calls for fasting and abstaining.  Again, not sure how many Germans follow this anymore.  My bet is a good chunk of them do, but not most.
  • The most popular Karneval parade is held in Cologne.  We won't be going since it usually attracts something like 1 million visitors and it's bound to be a mad house.  This is also where Karneval season is kicked off (remember when?  11/11 at 11:11).  Regardless, most towns of a substantial enough size host their own Karneval celebrations, so finding somewhere to celebrate is not that big of a deal.
  • The Thursday before Karneval is known as Weiberfastnacht (women's carnival).  Women typically dress up and celebrate taking control on this day.  The most popular antic is the cutting of ties.  Women will run up to men, cut off their tie and give them a kiss on the cheek.  In some areas, the women compete to see who can get the most or wildest collection of ties.  So if you're a man, and wear a tie regularly, make sure it's not a good one, or is one you don't mind throwing away ;)
  • There are a lot of jokes at other's expense.  It's not meant to be offensive, so just go with the flow on it.  Political correctness is not as important in Germany as in the States.

The inside of a berliner, aka Paczki

Now you are enlighten a little bit more as to what Karneval/Fasching/Fastnacht is.  How are you celebrating this time of year?  Mardi Gras?  Karneval?  Eating too many Berliners (Paczki) to count and not being one bit ashamed about it?