Germany’s biggest bash …

  • Published
  • By Iris Reiff
  • 52nd Fighter Wing Public Affairs
What's Germany's biggest bash? Most people would probably say the Munich Octoberfest.

Wrong answer!

There is one event which involves more celebrating and merrymaking than ever seen in Germany. It is Fasching -- or Germany's version of Mardi Gras -- celebrated Feb. 12-17 this year. 

During Fasching, or Fastnacht, often referred to as Germany's Foolish or Silly Season, thousands of clubs are hosting costume balls, dances and Kappensitzungen, or fun sessions, with all events starting off at 11 minutes past the 11th hour - an odd number that adds to the fun and silliness of Fasching. 

Fasching is observed differently depending on the part of the country you're in. However, there is no doubt that the most popular celebrations occur in the Rhineland, very close to Spangdahlem Air Base, and these begin on Fat Thursday, Feb.12, with Weiberfastnacht, or Ladies Fasching.

This day is devoted to the ladies in Germany. The women dress up in colorful costumes with masks, referred to as "Moehnen," which means old ladies.  On Ladies Fasching, the Moehnen walk through the communities, pulling jokes on people, especially local politicians. They will visit business owners, county houses or other local authorities. The Fasching fools like to paint peoples' faces and offer them a drink for a small fee of two-to-three Euros.

In many towns such as Bitburg, Wittlich and Speicher, it is a tradition for the ladies to 'capture' the local Rathauses, or city halls, and take over the city key from the mayor. This always happens at 11:11 a.m. In some communities the intruders will set up a ladder and climb through the window into the Rathaus, like it is the case in Wittlich. This is a great spectacle, observed by local residents who all enjoy the events every time they happen. Once the ladies seize the key they are in charge of the city or community for that day.  Typically a band plays Fasching music and the women serve refreshments and traditional Fasching treads, in some areas including a pea soup and baked goodies.

On Fat Thursday it is customary for the ladies to walk around and cut off men's ties with scissors. They typically post the cut of ties on a board, which they will carry with them. The safest thing for men is probably not to wear one that day. For those gentlemen who would like to support the tradition, it is of course a nice thing to wear an old and ugly tie for the capturing. The meaning of the tie-cutting tradition is that the male authorities symbolically lose their authority power with the loss of the tie.

A third tradition on Ladies Fasching includes local children standing in the streets of the villages, stopping cars. They pretend that they will not move unless you stop and pay them a small toll. Although it is not required to pay the fee, it is recommended to slow down and be very careful when driving around the youth. No one really knows where the road toll tradition started.

Fasching celebrations, attracting the most attention and the greatest number of visitors are the parties along the Rhine, in Mainz, Cologne and Duesseldorf. Over the years, these events have become an important economic factor for those cities and their states, since the fancy parades and balls cost millions of Euros.

Although almost every village in Germany, regardless of size, will conduct a Fasching parade Feb. 14-17, the most famous and gigantic German parades always happen on Rose Monday, Feb. 16, in the cities of Cologne, Mainz and Duesseldorf, in most cities along the Rhine River as well as in Aachen and Munich. Thousands of observers stand in the streets, cheering, singing and dancing. Children bring bags along to collect the candies and sweets that the Fasching fools hand out or throw into the crowd. For those people who would like to experience the popular Cologne parade, this year's events fall on a US holiday. Don't forget to bring a camera.

Parades in the local region typically happen on Fasching Sunday, Feb. 15, or Rose Monday. Some communities may host their parades a day prior, Feb.  14, or Shrove Tuesday, Feb. 17. Ask your German neighbors or watch out for the posters in your community, listing current dates for Fasching events.

Masquerade balls are a lot of fun. People will participate in Fasching and masquerade balls between now and Ash Wednesday, Feb. 18, at either a local guesthouses or a public spot in town. Everyone can dress up. Typically at masquerade balls prizes are given away to the nicest costumes or best ideas, if contestants wear a mask between 9:30 p.m. and midnight. Prizes may range between 50 to 100 Euros in some places.

For people who cannot make it to a parade or would like to get a taste of the Rhineland Fasching without actually being involved in the celebrations, Germany's most famous city parades will be aired live on television all day on Rose Monday.  

The good times of Fasching will finally come to an end around midnight Tuesday, Feb. 17, the night before Ash Wednesday, when Lent starts. Some communities will have a farewell celebration that evening and burn Fasching traditions.

Beware that consumption of alcohol is involved with Fasching and police controls will be enforced throughout the Fasching season.

In order to stay out of trouble, people need to arrange for transportation after consuming alcohol at celebrations.