The A-B-Cs of Fasching

  • Published
  • By Iris Reiff
  • 52nd Fighter Wing Public Affairs
German carnival or Fastnacht (Fasching) is held throughout Germany, including the Eifel area, in southern cities, and in the Rhineland cities like Mainz, Aachen, Bonn and Duesseldorf.

Along the Rhine River, but also in other parts of the country, including the Eifel area, every large town has a "Prinz" and "Prinzessin" (prince and princess) who typically command a uniformed guard, the "Prinzengarde" (prince's guard.)

The biggest and zaniest Rhine Karneval, and for that matter, in all of Europe, is held in Köln (Cologne.)

The first written record of the Köln carnival is from the year 1341. Köln has the Dreigestirn (three Stars): the Carnival Prince (known as Sein Totallität, 'His Craziness'), the Bauer (peasant) and the Jungfrau (virgin.)

The Jungfrau has always been a man. It is a great honor to be one of 11 members or Elferat (Council of Eleven members) of the Dreigestirn, and they are elected each October from the members of Köln's 105 historic carnival associations.

In 1823, concerned citizens, mainly of the educated elite, formed Karneval societies for the purpose of creating a new image. The Romantic spirit of the times and renewed interest in classic Greece and Rome, provided inspiration for Karneval themes.

A symbolic figure, "Prinz Karneval", assisted by two other picturesque figures, the Kouml Inische Bauer (Cologne Peasant) and the Kouml Inische Jungfrau (Cologne Virgin, portrayed by a man) became the principals.

The Köln carnival involves hundreds of street and pub-parties, where people attend in costume. Many special fundraising events are also held in large halls. A person's costume planned for Carnival Monday can be unique or a group activity. And for on Rosenmontag (Rose Monday,) you'll stand out for lack of a costume.

Carnival or Fasching officially starts on the Elften, Elften, Elf Uhr Elf (11th November at 11:11 am) and continues in a fairly low-key way for about three months before the "Crazy Days" start. Millions will be on the streets dressed in costumes to cheer their royalties and friends on floats or marching in the parade for the Rose Monday Parade on Carnival Monday, which is March 3 this year.

Weiberfastnacht (Women's Carnival or Ladies' Fasching)

The Thursday before Rosenmontag (Feb. 27 this year,) and it is a tradition that women are allowed to cut off the tie of any man within reach and to "kiss" any man they want.

Popular on this day is the "Storming of the Rathaus" or storming of a city hall in German cities and communities. It's the ladies who 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.

Ladies Fasching, also known as Fat Thursday, also signals the beginning of the five days of Carnival of Fastnacht with many parades taking place Saturday (Feb. 29 through March 4, which is Shrove Tuesday, the day before Ash Wednesday)

About 1.5 million people go to the Rose Monday parades, especially in Cologne and to other Rheinland cities. But many people just watch the sometimes six-hour long festivities on TV.

It takes a lot of effort for countless Karneval associations to build decorative wagons for and organize the Rose Monday parades, which can be very costly. The floats not only try to be beautiful but also represent satirical, political and traditional topics.

As the floats pass by, the costumed revellers aboard pelt the street crowds with sweets while they sing many old Karneval songs.

The "Mariechen" acrobatic dancing girls entertain the crowds as part of the parade. In the parade, the Carnival Prince has a royal bodyguard who are dressed in uniforms of the early 1800s.

The Prinzengarde bodyguards remind the crowd of the city's tradition of anti-militarism. This included disobeying orders by turning in the wrong direction and stuffing flowers into rifle-barrels. This dates back to the French Revolution and times of Napoleon.

Rosenmontag is not an official holiday but in many parts of Germany, stores are closed, and people usually get the day off.

Carnival is a regional festival and is celebrated in different ways, according to different local traditions.

It's known around Germany as:

in the Rhineland area; the backbone of the German carnival, the Guilds of Fools, enthrone their own princes and princesses to guide the fool's folk into a "devilish" season.

around the city of Mainz ("fasting night," or eve of Lent, the period of fasting); also in the Eifel area.

in Swabia (south-west region of Germany) and in the south-west of the state of Bavaria.

in the Franken region (northern Bavaria.)

around the city of Munchen and in Austria.

or Fastelofvend: Karneval in Cologne

The different groups are:

Narrenzunft (-zünfte)
Carnival guilds or societies organize and run the season's events.

Elferrat: The Council of Eleven plans and moderates the festivities in consultation with the Karneval associations.

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.

The different characters are:

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, should be casually attired and while simple and good natured, he's no dummy. Whereas Schäl, is correct in derby hat and tie, 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. There are now acrobatic competitions as part of the Carnival.

Kappensitzungen: Fools' sessions, "Silly Hat" sessions or a good Karneval party. At Kappensitzungen, people poke fun at citizens and politicians. But, there is also a lot of comedy. There are sketches, dancing performances and musical performances. At Kappensitzungen, people like to Schunkel (link arms with the persons next to you and swinging back and forth to the music.)

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

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

Karneval peaks on Monday in the South Fasching reaches its climax on Shrove Tuesday.

Faschingsdienstag or Veilchendienstag (Shrove Tuesday) it all ends with the "Kehraus" (from auskehren, to sweep out) when, by the stroke of midnight, the merrymaking comes to an end.

The next day, Ash Wednesday, Lent starts.