Germany springs to life with weeklong Fasching celebration

  • Published
  • By Iris Reiff
  • 52nd Fighter Wing Public Affairs
Germany will soon spring to life with Fasching, a week-long event filled with fun and laughter often referred to as the Fifth season or Silly Season.

Although all major Fasching events, including the most famous Rose Monday parades, take place in the Rhineland cities like Cologne, Mainz, Aachen, Bonn and Duesseldorf, the fun does not stop at the borders of the Eifel.

Over the past three months, starting Nov. 11, 2015, thousands of Fasching fools and carnival clubs right here in the Eifel have been planning fun activities including beautiful parades and public entertainment.

People of all ages are typically involved in the celebrations with speeches, dancing performances or by cheering from one of the many decorated Fasching wagons in a parade.

But what exactly is Fasching? When does Fasching take place, and what can people expect to see happening around the Eifel?Fasching is a regional festival and is celebrated in different ways, according to different local traditions.

It has different names depending on the region it is oberved in.  In most places around Germany, including the Eifel area, it is called Fastnacht, meaning "fasting night," or the eve of Lent, a period of fasting.

In the south-west region of Germany and in Bavaria it is called Fasnet, and in Cologne they call it Fastelofvend or Carneval.

Regardless of the name, Fasching is certainly about having fun and celebrating good times; some people also claim it's about chasing away winter spirits and welcoming spring.

Fasching dates back to the Middle ages when the people first received the right to speak up against the authorities. Wearing costumes helped the complainers to not be identified.

Later, the Christian church took over this tradition and made it part of the church calendar, which means the partying time was limited and would stop on Ash Wednesday, when Lent starts. During this time people were asked to reduce entertainment and consumption.

With the occupation under Napoleon at the beginning of the 19th century, the lavish carneval parades in Mainz and Cologne started. These were again designed to make fun of authorities and politicians. The uniform wearing during Fasching also refers to the times of Napoleon, when military members wore the three corner shaped hats.

These days the Fasching fools still wear uniforms and receive awards for presenting the best and funniest speeches and performances.

Carnival, or Fasching, always starts on the "Elften, Elften, Elf Uhr Elf" (11th November at 11 a.m.) and continues in a moderate way for about three months before the "Crazy Days" start.

Ladies Fasching, also known as Fat Thursday, signals the beginning of the five crazy days of Fastnacht, with many events kicking off then and parades following from Saturday, Feb. 5 until Shrove Tuesday on Feb. 9.

Popular on Ladies Fasching is the "Storming of the Rathaus," or storming of a city hall in German cities and communities. The ladies storm the Rathaus and hunt for the symbolic key to the city. Once they capture the city hall, by obtaining the key, the ladies are in charge of the city or community for the day.

It is also a tradition that women are allowed to cut off the tie of any man within reach and to "kiss" any man they want.

Over the years, young children have come up with the tradition of stopping cars in the roads within their communities. With a small tip they will move out of the way and free up the traffic again. Although one does not have to pay the toll, drivers are asked to slow down and be careful as they drive through local towns and villages on Fasching.

Throughout the country, Fasching features vast costume balls, dances and Kappensitzungen or "fools sessions."

Kappensitzung literally stands for "Silly Hat" session, featuring a good Karneval party. At Kappensitzungen, people typically poke fun at citizens and politicians. There is also a lot of other types of comedy.

There are sketches, dancing and musical performances. During Kappensitzungen people like to Schunkel, which means they link arms with the persons next to them, swinging back and forth to the music. Dance music is often played by bands following the program performances.

For those who would like to witness a German-American Kappensitzung right here on base, Club Eifel will host an event the night of Jan. 29. The Elferrat or Council of Eleven, plans and moderates all activities. The base's 3rd annual Kappensitzung will offer dancing performances, fun speeches and sketches by numerous performers from on and off base, with music following by a locally famous German Fasching band, the Dompiraten. 

The Spangdahlem Air Base prince and princess couple will be among the audience to greet 52nd Fighter Wing Fasching fools and invited guests. Although it is not a must, it is recommended for guests to wear a costume of their choice for the event.

Among the highlights of all Fasching events in Germany are of course the parades, especially those that take place on Rose Monday in the larger cities. It takes a lot of effort for countless associations to build the decorative wagons and organize their parades.

In the bigger cities the Rose Monday parades can be very costly. The floats are not only beautiful, but also represent satirical, political and traditional topics. The "Mariechen" acrobatic dancing girls often entertain the crowds as part of a parade. In many parades, the Carnival Prince has a royal bodyguard dressed in uniforms from the early 1800s.

As the floats pass by, the observing Fasching fools greet the participants with a special salute that is different in every region. For the most part people shout out "Helau", but even Bitburg, Wittlich and Trier have their own greetings.

Parade watchers and especially the children will collect candy which is thrown out to them from the float wagons. The visitors often sing Fasching songs and swing back and forth to music that comes from giant loudspeakers. It is an experience to see a Fasching float and take souvenir photos.

Millions of people usually flock into the bigger cities for the Rose Monday parades. In order to avoid the large crowds, many people prefer to watch the sometimes six-hour long floats on television.

In a much smaller and controlled environment, German towns and communities around the base will offer parades between Feb. 6 and Feb. 9.

The nearby community of Zemmer will host a parade as early as Jan. 30, at 3 p.m. through the streets of the community, while Grosslittgen will have a night parade Jan. 30, at 5:33 p.m. and the community of Rivenich, near Sehlem will have a night parade, Jan. 30, 6:30 p.m.

Other local parades to follow are:
Feb. 5, 6:33 p.m., a night parade, in Osann-Monzel
Feb. 6, 2:11 p.m. in Speicher; Feb. 6, 3:11 p.m. in Klausen
Feb. 6, 7:11 p.m., which is a night parade, in Idenheim
Feb. 7, 2:11 p.m. in Spangdahlem
Feb. 7, 2:11 p.m. in Bitburg
Feb. 7, 2:11 p.m. in Gondorf
Feb. 7, 2:11 p.m. in Biersdorf am See
Feb. 7, 2:11 in Wittlich
Feb. 7, 2:11 p.m. in Wittlich-Platten
Feb. 7, 3:11 p.m. in Plein
Feb. 7, 2:11 p.m. in Bruch
Feb. 7, 2:11 p.m. in Preist
Feb. 8, 2:11 p.m. in Dudeldorf
Feb. 8, 12:11 p.m. in Trier
Feb. 8, 4:11 p.m. in Arenrath
Feb. 8, 2:11 p.m. in Sehlem
Feb. 8, 2:11 p.m. in Minderlittgen
Feb. 8, 2:11 p.m. in Herforst
Feb. 8, 2:11 p.m. in Orenhofen
Feb. 8, 2 p.m. in Dreis

It is worth mentioning that three important figures on Karneval make up the Dreigestirn (three Stars): the Carnival Prince (known as Sein Totallität, 'His Craziness'), the Bauer (peasant) and the Jungfrau (virgin). The Jungfrau is always a man. These folks play a rather important role throughout the Fasching season, proudly representing their city at most events at home and elsewhere.

It is also considered a great honor to be one of the 11 members of the Elferat, or "Council of Eleven members" of the Dreigestirn, who are elected each October by the members of the many Karneval associations.

Beware that while Rosenmontag is not an official holiday, in many parts of Germany stores are closed and people usually take the day off.  Most government offices are closed on both Rose Monday and Shrove Tuesday.

On Faschingsdienstag or Veilchendienstag (Shrove Tuesday) it all ends with the "Kehraus" (from auskehren, meaning "to sweep out") when, by the stroke of midnight, all merrymaking will stop. This is because the next day is Ash Wednesday, when the Christian season of Lent begins.

Base members should be aware that alcohol is consumed during most Fasching events, and German Polizei controls may be enforced throughout Germany's Silly season. Remember, don't drink and drive, and make sure to arrange transportation or nearby hotel accomodations prior to celebrating.

Traditional fashing terms and characters:

Narrenzunft (-zünfte): C
arnival guilds or societies who organize and run the season's events.

Funken Prinzengarde (prince's guard): Created as a parody of the Prussian Army's drill. Dressed in 18th century uniforms with red coats, white wigs and three-cornered hats, this drill team carries out some irreverent maneuvers, occasionally bending over and wagging their posteriors at authority.

Funken Rote: The oldest and largest Carnival society in Cologne. Members of the corps are divided up into four companies wearing flashy red and white uniforms. The four symbols for each division are a knitted sock, an onion, a spinning top and a champagne cork. The official language of the "Rote Funken" is "Kölsch," the local dialect, and every Funk has a Kölsch nickname.

Jeck: Person born in Cologne.

Imi: Not born in Cologne, but living there.

All others: "Fründe" (Freunde or Friend,) "Jäste" (Gäste or Guest) or "Besök" (Besuch or Visitor).

Büttensitzung: The main feature of a Büttensitzung is that a speaker literally stands inside of, and speaks from, a barrel. "Bütten" (barrel) speakers are expected to be funny and clever. The speeches range from funny to satirical and highly political. The speakers enjoy "Narrenfreiheit" (fools' liberty), the license of a court jester who had the liberty to speak unpopular truths as long as they are humorous.

Tünnes & Schäl: Two Karneval characters whose job it is to poke fun at the good citizens of Cologne. Tünnes  is casually attired, and while simple and good natured he's no dummy. Whereas Schäl is correct in derby hat and tie, and displays proper, conforming respectability

Funken Mariechen (Mary of the Sparks): High-stepping dancing majorettes, girls and women dressed in white wigs, three-pointed hats and red uniforms. They now participate in acrobatic competitions as part of the Carnival.

Zoch: (From Zug) parade. They first came together to poke fun at the stiff Prussian military.

Sitzung: Meeting of Faschingsverein, where there is music, singing, dancing and Schunkeln.

Schunkeln: You link arms with the persons next to you and swing with the music.

Nubbelverbrennung: Burning the spirit of carnival to atone for the sins committed during the carnival session.

Weiberfastnacht or Ladies Fasching: Carnival Thursday, the first day of the women's carnival. Tie-wearers beware for, according to custom, your tie can be cut off. Other names in Germany for women's carneval are Dorendonderdach, feister phinztag, gumpiger donstag, kleine fastnacht (Oberrhein), fetter Donnerstag (in the Eifel area), schwerer Donnerstag (Rheinland), Semperstag, tumbe fassnacht, unsinniger Donnerstag, Weiberdonnerstag, wuetig Donnerstag, Wuscheltag(Basel), zemperstag, zimpertag.

Rosenmontag- or Fastelovendszoch: Rose Monday Parade. Rose Monday actually has nothing to do with roses, but during the parades, the Prince likes to hand out roses to ladies.