If you’re in Germany between November 11th and Ash Wednesday, you might come upon a crowd of elaborately dressed Germans celebrating the “Karneval” season.
Originating from pagan, medieval traditions, the main goal of these festivities are to “scare away the winter,” whether with frightening costumes or creating loud noises with bells, horns, and drums.
Although I’ve been traveling around Germany since early 2012, I’ve happened to be out of town during this time every year, so this is the first time I’ve been around to experience the carnival festivities.
The modern German carnival resembles something similar to other pre-Lenten events, like Mardi Gras in New Orleans. Different German-speaking regions (of Germany, Switzerland, and Austria) have different names for this celebration. In our area (in the Schwarzwald) it is called Fasnet. It is also called Fastnacht or Fasching. These names relate to the modern German word Fastenschank, which refers to the last serving of alcohol (as before the imminent fasting for Lent).
We went to Weil der Stadt, Germany, where they have a parade that dates back to the Middle Ages. The procession includes groups of performers in elaborate wooden masks representing witches, demons, wolves, or other creatures, loud marching bands, dancers, and handmade floats. Because the carnival is fueled by the community, many of the participants practice and prepare for the parade year-round in after-school programs and clubs.
Bystanders are encouraged to dress up as well—in very similar styles to Halloween in the US. It’s not frowned upon if you don’t come in costume, but I’m definitely planning to do so next year! The parade is very involved, with witches kidnapping bystanders, stealing shoe laces, or painting your face. If you want to avoid any mischief, try to stand away from the front row. Otherwise, have fun!
If bringing kids, take caution if your child is frightened easily, because some of the masks can be terrifying! 👻 However, the performers are very playful and interactive with children; they may approach and poke fun at their costumes or bop them on the nose, always with candy as a reward. (Make sure to bring a bag so they can collect candy!)
The adults get to have fun too if they have a cup or shot glass with them. A generous witch or other procession performer might share their schnaps 😉
The Weil der Stadt Fasnet Parade usually takes place on the Sunday afternoon before Ash Wednesday. Entrance is 3€ for adults and free for kids! They also offer shuttles to neighboring towns/neighborhoods where you can park. Make sure to bring cash for the tickets and to purchase street food or beverages while you’re there.