The Fifth Season - Karneval
The name given to carnival varies across Germany. Karneval, Fasching and Fastnacht all refer to the same pre-Lenten celebrations but each has a different tradition and reflect differing customs. However, if you thought that the differences might be explicable on a regional basis, I’m afraid you will be disappointed. For example, in general, Karneval is the word used for the Rhenish (Rhineland) version of carnival, in northwest Germany but in Mainz, it is called Fastnacht. The big day for Karneval is, generally, the Rose Monday parade, but in the northern German city of Braunschweig, where the Karneval dates back to 1293, one of Germany’s biggest carnival parades, called “Schoduvel” (“scaring away the devil”), takes place on Carnival Sunday. The term Fasching, usually associated with the southern regions of Germany and Austria, is also seen and heard in Berlin and other parts of northern Germany. Fastnacht, used in Mainz, is also used in Swabia and Switzerland.
With the differences in name come differences in style and emphasis. Karneval in the north and in the Rhineland, is known for its political, military and social parody, poking fun at local, national and international politicians. While this may be a feature of Karneval in many Fasching and Fastnacht regions, the emphasis on these regions focuses on the more Catholic tradition of dressing up as devils, fools and wild beasts.
Some explanation for these differences might be found in the origins of the three words.
The 13th century word Fasching, heard in central and eastern Austria, Bavaria Munich and Würzburg in Bavaria, Berlin, Brandenburg and Saxony and is derived from the old German words vaschanc or vaschang. In modern German, this would be Fastenschank, referring to the last alcohol before the Lenten fast, which was, then, strictly observed.
Karneval, is 17th century word, with its origins in the Carnevale of medieval Venice, one of the earliest documented carnival celebrations in the world. Borrowed from the Romance languages, it’s precise origin is not clear but probably lies in the use of the Latin words carne and levare to express the Lenten abstinence from meat.
The third name for carnival, Fastnacht, sometimes spelt Fasnacht, is heard in Baden-Württemberg, Franconia (northern Bavaria), Hesse and much of Switzerland. At first glance, it looks like a German word for “Lent Eve”, but the etymology lies in the old German words fasen and nacht, meaning a night to be foolish, silly or wild.
FASCHING in Munich and Bavaria
There are carnival celebrations across Bavaria, but Fasching customs vary from place to place. The celebrations abound in Franconia (northern Bavaria) but Munich has one of the largest Fasching fests in Bavaria, surpassed only by the Sunday Fasching parade in Würzburg. After the crowning of the Fasching prince and princess (das Faschingsprinzenpaar) in mid-January, everyone prepares for the start of carnival in the week before Ash Wednesday.
The celebrations in Munich centre on the Marienplatz and the nearby Viktualienmarkt, but balls, music, and parties take place all over the city. The Carnival Sunday parade of the “Daft Knights” (die Damischen Ritter) is one of the highlights and this Faschingsumzug, featuring Herzog (Duke) Kasimir and his retinue of knights, clowns and marching bands processes from Herzog-Wilhelm-Straße, through the centre of Munich and its pedestrian zone to the famous Hofbräuhaus. One of the most popular of Munich’s celebrations is the Dance of the Market Women (Tanz der Marktfrauen) on Shrove Tuesday at the Viktualienmarkt. The ladies who normally run the many booths at Munich’s popular open-air food market take a break from selling and dress up to dance on a stage at the market beer garden.
One of Germany’s best-known and largest carnival celebrations takes place in Cologne. The Kölner Karneval is also called Fastelovend (“fasting eve”) or Kölsche Fasteleer in the local dialect. As in most of the Rhineland, the highpoint of Karneval is the big parade on Rose Monday (Rosenmontag), the largest in all of Germany, stretching almost four miles.
As in most places, the so-called “fifth season” (die fünfte Jahreszeit) begins at 11.11 on November 11 with a concert and the presentation of the Kölner Dreigestirn, the three symbolic figures of Cologne’s Karneval – a prince, a peasant and a virgin, this last always played by a man. But after that, little happens until mid-January.
As in most of the Rhineland, Karneval starts rolling on Weiberfastnacht, the Thursday before Ash Wednesday. On Cologne’s Old Market square, the mayor and the Dreigestirn launch the first official street carnival but all over the city, similar events take place, with costumed Jecken bands and other festivities.
Costume balls, parties and other carnival events continue over the next few days, leading up to the big parade on Rose Monday,when over one million spectators gather along the parade route that winds through the center of Cologne, passing in front of the Cologne Cathedral (Kölner Dom). Although it’s not an official holiday, very few people have to work on Rose Monday and most businesses close before noon.
The next day, Shrove Tuesday, or Fat Tuesday, there are more parades in various sections of the city, some of which draw as many as 200,000 spectators. There are few places in Germany where you will see carnival on the scale seen in Cologne. Late in the night of Shrove Tuesday, there are special carnival bonfires known as the Nubbelverbrennung, or “burning of the straw man” (der Nubbel). These usually take place on the street in front of pubs and are a symbolic burning of the sins committed during Karneval.
The carnival tradition of humorous, rhyming speeches called Büttenreden began in Cologne. An entire industry, complete with books and websites, has grown up around it. The Büttenrede takes its name from the barrel-shaped podium, or die Bütt, where the speaker stands to give his Büttenrede.
Fastnacht, is the Swabian-Alemannic carnival of southwestern Germany, and northern Bavaria. In the Fastnacht version of carnival, elaborate, carved wooden masks, devils, witches, animals and other “wild characters” (Wilde Leute) are common reflecting the pre-Christian roots of the Swabian-Alemannic carnival. In ancient times these figures and masks were part of an effort to drive out evil spirits in the dark of winter but later, perhaps, they reflected the Church’s concepts of good and evil. Unusually, many of the costume wearers (Narrenhästräger) in Fastnacht areas use the same masks and costumes year after year, sometimes even keeping them in the family for generations.
Although the city of Mainz is located on the Rhine, carnival there is known as Fastnacht. But in most ways carnival in Mainz is similar to Karneval in Cologne, Bonn or Düsseldorf and the Rhineland military influence is still there. The carnival’s mounted guardsmen, the Reitercorps der Mainzer Ranzengarden wear colorful, stylized copies of historic Prussian and Austrian uniforms.
Today it is a part of the Karneval tradition throughout the Rhineland and elsewhere, but Weiberfastnacht, the Thursday before Ash Wednesday, started in Beuel, a suburb of Bonn in 1824. Beuel was where most of the town’s washer women (Wäscherinnen) worked. At that time men dominated the carnival celebration but the washer-women of Beuel formed the Alte Damenkomitee to fight for the participation of women in carnival events. Today the symbolic storming of the town hall commemorates the revolt of the washer women.
Weiberfastnacht is now common throughout the Rhineland but the selection of the Wäscherprinzessin (washer princess) remains unique to Beuel. Each year, a lady is chosen to become the carnival “Princess of the Washer Women.” Addressed as “Ihre Lieblichkeit” (your loveliness), the princess represents the Damenkomitee during the storming of the town hall. On that Thursday, there occurs a gender reversal with women kissing men and asking them to dance. asking men to dance, kissing men, etc. Another feature of Weiberfastnacht is the practice of tie-cutting. Women dress up as witches or wear other costumes and cut off the ties of men they encounter. Usually, the men get a kiss as compensation.
The Days of Fasching/Karneval
Each day of Carnival has a special name in German and some of the names vary from region to region.
Donnerstag (Thursday): Fettdonnerstag/Schmotziger Donnerstag (Fat/Greasy Thursday), Schmutziger Donnerstag (looks like “Dirty” Thursday, but is just a variation of Schmotziger Donnerstag), Unsinniger Donnerstag (Nonsensical Thursday), Weiberfastnacht/Altweiberfastnacht ([Old] Women’s Fasching)*
Freitag (Friday): Rußiger Freitag (Sooty Friday)
Samstag (Tuesday): Nelkensamstag (Carnation Saturday), Schmalziger Samstag(Greasy/Schmaltzy Saturday)
Sonntag (Sunday): Tulpensonntag (Tulip Sunday)
Montag (Monday): Rosenmontag (Rose Monday)
Dienstag (Tuesday): Fasnachtsdienstag (Shrove Tuesday), Mardi Gras (Fat Tuesday), Veilchendienstag (Violet Tuesday)
Aschermittwoch: Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent