SPANGDAHLEM AIR BASE, Germany --
No one is exactly sure of the origin of the number 11, the number of Fasching. However, one of the most common explanations is that, "God gave Moses not ten, but eleven commandments - the eleventh being 'Thou shalt have a good time.'"
Fasching, or the Foolish season, officially began 11:11 a.m. Nov. 11, and most celebrations began at this hour, too. The November carnival schedule, however, is limited to speeches, plays and a toast to Prince and Princess Fasching. When February or March comes around, the climax of Fasching approaches. Thousands of Fasching clubs throughout the country will host costume balls, dances and so-called "Kappensitzungen" fun - or prank sessions - with most events typically starting off 11 minutes past the 11th hour.
Anyone who thought Germans don't know how to party will be proven wrong this month, when the country wakes up to celebrate its fourth season, or silly season. This is a time for carnivals, laughter, fun, dancing parties and parades. Fasching is all about having a good sense of humor, yet having respect and staying within limits.
For most newcomers to Germany, the numerous festivities of carnival - called Fastnacht, Fasching or Fasnet depending on the part of the country - might be somewhat of a pleasant culture shock, and at the same time it makes for the grandest merrymaking. It is also an important part of German culture. The foolish late-winter days, dedicated to merrymaking and fun, always precede Lent in the Roman-Catholic church year -- the 40 days of fasting between Ash Wednesday and Easter when the diets of faithful Catholics are restricted.
There are actually various types of Fasching celebrated in Germany, and each has its own legends and traditions.
The celebrations attracting the most attention and the greatest number of visitors are the lavish parties along the Rhine in Mainz, Cologne and Duesseldorf. What started with a tradition has become an important economic factor for those regions since the fancy parades and balls cost millions of euros.
In the Rhineland and the Eifel, Fasching begins with Weiberfastnacht, or Ladies Fasching, on Feb. 11, the Thursday before Ash Wednesday. This day is also known as Fat Thursday and entails a variety of traditional events.
It is customary for ladies to walk around offices on and off base and cut men's' ties. Some officials will purposely wear old ties to appease the tradition. Another tradition on Fat Thursday is for Germany women to take over entire communities and towns by stealing the keys to city halls from mayors. The so-called "Moehnen" who take the key dress up in old-fashioned clothing and masks.
These are humorous events which take place in most large towns, to include Bitburg, Wittlich and Trier. Special guests and the community are invited. In Wittlich, the Moehnen climb up a ladder and enter the city hall through the window.
Once the ladies capture the town, dances and celebrations occur inside and outside the city halls, in public spots, and at banks and local guesthouses. Many people dress up and celebrate by singing and dancing in the streets.
Children may also sometimes try to stop cars in the local villages; they like to ask for small coins before they clear the way. People must drive slowly. If you don't have any change, just pass carefully. The children will eventually move away from the road and let you through.
Feb. 13 and 14 feature the big Fasching parades. Perhaps the most famous German parades are on Rose Monday, Feb. 15, in Cologne, Mainz, Duesseldorf and other towns along the Rhine River as well as in Aachen and Munich. There people can find the typical big-city events and spectacular shows. Parades can take up to eight hours, and celebrations continue until the next morning.
It is advisable to arrive in the mentioned cities the night before. Traffic will be extremely bad the morning of Feb. 15, and it will be hard to get into the city and find parking. Large crowds of people will arrive as early as 5 and 6 p.m. to find a good spot along the road for observing the parades. People can take the train from Bitburg-Erdorf in the morning; however, keep in mind that trains will be extremely crowded and seating is limited. More information on trains can be obtained on deutschebahn.de or at the train station.
The parades are similar to the festive parades of the Baroque courts. A number of people simply stand in the streets, occasionally taking part by cheering and singing popular songs. In addition, millions of people watch the carnival on TV. The theme of parades changes each year, however, the floats and costumes are always beautiful. The parades are usually led by the Fasching Prince's honor guard dressed in white wigs, bright colored coats, three-cornered or peaked hats, white pants and high black boots.
Almost every local town and village conducts a Fasching parade Feb. 13, 14 or 15. Those who don't want to dance and frolic can watch the carnival processions and take photos. Observers are not required to wear a costume, but it is recommended if they wish to fit into the crowd. Some people wear regular clothes and paint their faces or wear a hat. Almost anything and everything is allowed and possible on Fasching. Children bring bags along to collect candies and sweets that Fasching fools hand out or throw into the crowds.
Balls and Celebrations
There are several Fasching events in the local area. Carnival and masquerade balls kick off in almost every town and are held in a local gasthaus, disco or public spot in town through all of Fasching. These are public events, and everyone is invited.
It is suggested that all wear a costume and mask at Fasching balls, but at a "Preismaskenball," or prize masquerade ball, it is a must to wear a mask when participating. The nicest costumes or best ideas can win prizes such as money, tours and other items. People can enjoy the competition in a group or individually. The balls usually start at 8 or 9 p.m., and participants must be there no later than 9:30 or 10 p.m. to compete.
Those who want to attend a prize masquerade ball must wear a mask until 11:30 p.m. or midnight, when the prizes are given away for best costumes and ideas.
German Fasching associations ask people to participate in Fasching events such as parades or public balls. Those who would like to march in a parade as a group, contact your mayor, German friend or neighbor to find out more. Dance groups are also welcome to participate in Fasching balls.
The good times finally roll to an end around midnight Feb. 16, the night before Ash Wednesday when Lent starts.
People should keep in mind that alcohol will be consumed at Fasching events and police controls are enforced throughout the Eifel and the entire country. People who consume alcohol must arrange for transportation.