Karneval is the German’s pre-Lenten season or die fünfte Jahreszeit (fifth season) of their year. Depending on the region of Germany, it may be called either Fastnacht (Night of Fasting) or Fasching as well. My relatives are familiar with Fasching based on their somewhat southern location. As a child, I used to think that Fasching was the German version of Halloween, but I have since learned that is has a much greater meaning.
Carnival in Rio Janeiro is possibly the most famous version throughout the world. As Americans, we are familiar with New Orlean’s Mardi Gras, which is the French-influenced version of this celebration. Almost all of the Catholic regions and cities in the German-speaking world (and the rest of Europe) celebrate the event in some way. Germany’s Karneval is quite similar to such events and begins on different dates depending on the day of Easter each year. However, most traditional regions celebrate its start on the 11th day of the 11th month and continue a low key celebration for the next three months before the Tolle Tage (crazy days). This early date gives the organizers 3 to 4 months to prepare for the events that lead up to the big bash on the week before Ash Wednesday, when the Lenten season begins.
Germany’s most recognized Karneval event occurs in the city of Köln, which had its first celebration in 1341. Köln’s version of Karneval climaxes with a parade on Rosenmontag (Rose Montag), the 42nd day before Easter. The city has elaborate Umzüge (parades) where the event is celebrated. The parades have colorful floats made of paper flowers and marchers dressed in handmade customs, such as paper mashea caricature heads and additional masks carved out of wood. The floats are not only beautiful, but also represent satirical, political and traditional topics. As the floats pass by, those aboard pelt sweets at their spectators on the street while they sing the many old Karneval songs. In addition, the celebration includes a royal court with princes and princesses of the event. The royal court is protected by Prinzengarde (bodyguards) to remind the crowd of the city’s tradition of anti-militarism.
Except for Munich’s Oktoberfest, Karnvel is one of the few times of the year when many normally serious German’s loosen up and go a little crazy. Karneval is definitely another event that is something that I would like to get the chance to experience.
Here’s a German drinking song that is typically sang during the Karneval season.
Bier her, Bier her, oder ich fall um, juchhe!
Bier her, Bier her, oder ich fall um!
Soll das Bier im Keller liegen
Und ich hier die Ohnmacht kriegen?
Bier her, Bier her, ode rich fall um!
Wein her, Wein her, oder ich fall um, juchhe!
Wein her, Wein her, oder ich fall um!
Soll der Wein im Keller liegen
Und ich hier die Rheumatismus kriegen?
Wein her, Wein her, ode rich fall um!