Carnival In Germany

What Is Carnival?

It is an annual celebration held before the days of Lent begin. Hundreds of years ago, the followers of the Catholic religion in Italy started the tradition of holding a wild costume festival right before the first day of Lent. Because Catholics are not supposed to eat meat during Lent, they called their festival, carnevale — which means “to put away the meat.” This where the tradition of Carnival started. Carnival is now celebrated all over the world. It is normally celebrated a week before Lent begins, 52 days before Easter occurs. This celebration starts off crazy, but calms down in time for Ash Wednesday(“History Of Carnival”).
In Germany, Carnival is also called the “fifth and foolish season”(die närrische Zeit). Carnival season is declared to start on November 11th at 11:11am. There are small celebrations, which are put off once the Advent and Christmas season start, that pick up again once New Years is over. While there are a small amount of celebrations scattered throughout the year, the biggest and most elaborate occur a week before Lent begins(“Carnival In Germany 2011”). Carnival has different names depending on the region or city in Germany. In Rhineland, it is referred to as Karneval. In Cologne, it is also referred to as Karneval. In Munich, it is referred to as Fasching. In Southern Germany, it is referred to as Fastnacht(“Karneval or Fasching”).


Women’s Carnival Day(Weiberfastnacht)

This is the Thursday before Ash Wednesday. At 11:11 am, the street carnival is officially opened by three key figures: the Prince, the Peasant and the Virgin. Women dress up in fancy costumes. It’s a day for women to assume control over men. One tradition is for women to cut off the tie of any man who decides to take the risk and wear one. There are numerous parties and masked balls. Men normally buy the women their drinks.
Friday is a day of more parties and masked parties.
Saturday is celebrated with a traditional early-morning drink(Frühschoppen) followed by an enormous amount of parties. By the afternoon, the cities of Rhineland are packed with Carnival figures(Jecken) and by the night time, there are processions of ghost figures(Geisterzug).
Sunday is a day of parades held by fancily dressed kids, school groups, and clubs. It is the smaller version of the processions held the next day.

Rose Monday(Rosenmontag)

This is the known as the climax of Karneval. At 11:11 am, the official parade begins. Processions consist of decorated carts, coaches, giant Hollywood style walking dummies, often depicting well known political or international figures, groups of masked fools, brass bands, horses and costumed groups on foot. Bars of chocolate, sweets and flowers are thrown into the crowd surrounding the parade. After the parade, free roaming marchers dressed in costumes(Narrenkostümen) keep the celebrations going. Bars stay open until the wee hours of the morning. Street vendors fill the streets and people can buy pretzels, Bratwurst, German doughnuts(Krapfen) or hot-spiced wine(Glühwein) to keep warm.
The next day is followed by smaller parades and parties. Wednesday marks Ash Wednesday. Fish dinners are served in all pubs and restaurants(“Carnival In Germany 2011”).



The traditions of Karneval in Cologne date back to when Greeks and Romans celebrated Dionysus and Saturn,their gods, by holding cheerful spring festivals with wine, women, and singing. The ancient Germans celebrated the winter solstice as a homage to their Gods and to expel the winter demons. These traditions were then adopted by the Christians, who then set the celebration to occur the week before Lent. The celebrations continued through the Middle Ages, which displeased the city council and church because of the rowdiness and wild, drastic masquerades. The city coucil tried to place bans and ordinances, but that didn't stop the celebrations. In 1736, the first Redoute(Venetian styled balls with elegant dress) was held in Cologne in a noble house on the Neumarkt. Redouten were normally for those of higher status. When Cologne was captured by French revolutionary troops 50 years later, the city was still allowed to continue their Karneval traditions. The Prussians then took control a short time later and were stricter when it came to Karneval celebrations.
In 1823, Cologne's Karneval committee, named the Festkomitee, was founded. On February 10th of that year, the first Rose Monday was celebrated. In 1860, Cologne held its first Ghost Parade, where people march through the streets at night dressed in ghostly costumes(“Carnival In Germany 2011”).


The city of Cologne follows the same schedule as the Rhineland region. Their parade on Monday is four to five miles long, and winds through the city with floats, horses, bands, jesters, and the Fools Guild in traditional uniforms.
In Cologne there are approximately 160 Karneval societies, local history societies and district groups, who will celebrate their home town festival with about 500 sessions, balls and parades(“Karneval in Köln”).



Fasching comes from the medieval word vaschnc, in present-day German Fastnacht, and relates to the fasting period known as Lent. Until the 19th century, all of Munich's Fasching activities occurred in the open air. It wasn’t until 1829 that the first Fasching Ball took place, an artist’s festival, soon to be followed by other artist’s festivals and numerous masquerades and society and court balls. Munich's Fasching society was born in 1839, which is the beginning of Fasching for Munich. In 1908, the Council of Fools(Narrhalla) succeeded the Fasching society and is now responsible for the planning of the Fasching balls(“Munich's Fasching”).


At 11:11am on the 11th day of the 11th month the Fasching Prince and Princess are crowned, in preparation for their reign over the “crazy season“, which begins on the January 7th and continues through Shrove Tuesday(Faschingsdienstag).
The first events seen are the black and white balls, which are elegant dances, where men where silk dinner jackets and women wear elegant ball gowns. As Fasching progresses, the number of balls increases. There is the Washer-Women's Ball, the “Carnival in Rio“, the “Schabernackt“, the Fashion School’s Ball, children’s Fasching parties, private parties and impromptu office celebrations. The Sunday before Faschingsdienstag is referred to as Mad Munich(Munchen Harrisch) where thousands of dancers in fancy dress make their way through the streets to Marienplatz. Marienplatz has several stages as well as numerous food and drink stalls(Columbus Travel Media Ltd). On Faschingssonntag and Faschingsdienstag, Fasching doughnuts are sold like crazy and there is masquerading, singing, and dancing in the center of Munich.
Fasching is much more toned down than Karneval in Rhineland. The festival in Munich is influenced by Venice’s Carnival in Italy. The Sunday before Lent is known as Fools Sunday or Faschingssonntag. On this day, some ten thousand people crowd the streets between Karlstor and the Marienplatz for a special Karneval program. The festivities continue until they reach their climax on Tuesday(“Munich's Fasching”).

Southern Germany

Fastnacht often involves the use of fools' costumes, wooden masks, foxes' tails, bells, whips, water and soot, which together with the noise of people were generally regarded as offering protection against the demons which were seen as a particular threat during the transitional period between winter and spring. Generally speaking, only those who have lived in the city for more than 15 years can take part of Fastnacht. The masks(larven or schemmen) and costumes(Haes) also have to conform to historical precedents. Each year there are figures of “Wise Fools” with smooth, pale faces, scary witches with grotesque feathers and numerous animal masks. Southern Germany has gone back to its old traditions and have tried to reduce the influence of the crazy Rhineland Karneval(“Carneval, “Fasching” and “Fastnacht” in Germany”).


“Carneval, “Fasching” and “Fastnacht” in Germany.” Embassy of the Federal Republic of Germany Canberra - Home. Web. 13 Oct. 2011. <>.

“Carnival In Germany 2011.” Tourism in Germany. German National Tourist Board. Web. 13 Oct. 2011. <>.

Columbus Travel Media Ltd. “Fasching Munich Carnival.” Travel Guides - World Travel Guide. 2011. Web. 13 Oct. 2011. <>.

“History of Carnival.” Building Bridges Through Culture. Web. 13 Oct. 2011. <>.

“Karneval in Köln.” Web. 13 Oct. 2011. <>.

“Karneval or Fasching.” - The Authoritative Guide to German Foods in North America. Web. 13 Oct. 2011. <>.

“Munich's Fasching.” Offizielles Stadtportal Für München. 2011. Web. 13 Oct. 2011. <>.

ger/101/2011/fall/michelle_k.txt · Last modified: 2011/10/16 15:40 by mmkleine
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