Once again, I am dragged out by my overzealous German husband to watch – the not to be missed Schwäbian Alemannic Carnival parade, as it winds it’s way through the streets of Schwäbisch Gmünd.
This is Fat Tuesday – Carnival or what is correctly known as “Fasching”. And as an American Frau my enthusiasm this year waned with the weather – cold and raining “do we have to go?” Let’s say this request was a non-issue. The Germans and especially my husband take their holidays very seriously and the innumerable participation of the locals never ceases to amaze me. Perhaps the heightened atmosphere of merriment and relaxed public intoxication might be the draw. What could be better!
Here in Deutschland the highlight of the carnival season starts around Thursdays – goes over the weekend and ends with Fat Tuesday. Each major city has parades on different days and many small towns and villages hold their own celebrations. “Kneipen” or bars are decorated with multicoloured streamers like New Years Eve and posters advertising “Fasching” parties go up from village to village. Many people have house parties where guest come dressed in costumes like Halloween – though Halloween is a pagan holiday as one stern German reminded me. Carnival though, is kinda a close second.
When it comes to doing something and doing it right… the Germans are unsurpassed when it comes to creativity and attention to detail. Carnival goers dress-up in elaborate costumes from head to toe, complete with full-face theatrical makeup. You see many clowns, movie stars, fabulous animals, insects and political and historical figures sometimes in pairs. If you can imagine it you will see it. In Köln I saw a man dressed as a caddy with a golf course on his hat! Unlike Halloween, carnival is not only for the young and single as people of all ages especially those of the older generation dress – not to be outdone. What you don’t see is a lot of children – they have their own celebrations at school. This is one where the kiddies stay home.
The TV stations join in as they televise the Mainzer Fastnacht. They show thousands of colourful and elegantly costumed people partying to the likes of Mardi Gras in a historical ballroom in Mainz. The revellers sing, drink and applaud the carnival comedians on stage, one after another who make jokes that end with the clap of cymbals and toots of horns. The night is laced with dance groups, singers and a variety of bands from traditional Oopa music to modern day. My husband watches the Mainzer Fastnacht every year for hours. To me it’s like Lawrence Welk on steroids.
When people think of carnival in Germany, most think of Cologne “Köln”. The 6 kilometre, 3 hours long parade, that tosses out 63 tons of gummy bears and chocolate bars amongst a brightly costumed totally looped crowd that yell out “Kamelle” (sweets) for their treats.
Here we have the Schwäbian-Alemannic Carnival of southwestern Germany, also celebrated in certain regions of Bavaria, Austria, Switzerland and Luxembourg. Here in Schwäbia it is called “Fasching” in other places depending on the dialect it is known as Fasnacht, Fasent, Fasnet and Fassenacht. Alemannic refers to the Germanic descent of the Alamanni tribe. The Fastnacht version of carnival dates far back, long before the Christians adapted it and rolled it into one big party before Lent. In ancient times and to this day, the parade symbolizes the driving out of winter’s evil spirits. Carnival also holds other folkloric tales of flagrant and promiscuous behaviour. Let’s say you could kiss whom ever you wanted without reprise – all to be forgiven on Ash Wednesday and repented through Lent.
The traditional Alemannic parade marchers are known for their intricate carved wooden masks and elaborate costumes of devils, witches and other wild characters. These costumes are worn year after year and some are quite old, having been passed down from generation to generation. Marching bands play “Guggen” music with an hypnotic nook, knock beat too it.
The parade holds an entertaining cast of characters as the crowd waits for scheming minions to write the words “Hex” on your face, which means witch. I have seen horrified Mädchen (girls) get grabbed and wrestled to the ground by Ogres, only to have their shoes ripped off and their shoelaces tied back together. They also will grab you to jump rope or they will sit you on a ladder and toss you into the air. Whatever you do, don’t be caught without a costume – for they will make one for you. These terrifying werewolf looking creatures carry fat grease pencils will paint your entire face blue. There is also many other modern entries, like gangs of blue Smurfs, Canadian Mounties and marching bands with Albert Einstein masks. The crowd even sang to a long drawn out chant of “Johnny Dep”, whatever that meant? Trump really took a beating this year as the top theme, with many lewd designed floats and comical look a-likes. And after the parade passes and the music fades out, the crowd stumbles home. The city streets are awash with confetti, candy wrappers and hundreds of tiny empty liquor bottles – only to be revisited next year! Check out the video.
mit Freundlich Grüße, the American Frau
Die Mainzer Hofsänger | Mainz bleibt Mainz 2017, SWR, Published on Feb 24, 2017
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