You may think you know about the seasons – there are four of them, right? But here in Germany it is five! Call it Karneval, Fasching or Fastnacht; yet it is upon us. It is officially carnival season. The starting date is 11th of 11th month 11:11 am on St Martin’s day and it has been that way since 19th century. However there are sources that say this has been happening since the year 354 influenced by some Pagan festivities. Yes, you didn’t read it wrong – 354! So what happens in this season and what is it about?
Especially around the Rhineland (cities around Rhine river) carnival begins with much joy. The number 11 is not random. It is thought to be related to sin, and also associated with court jesters and fools (that is why there are many people around wearing those costumes.) Also some sources say that one drinks so much that it is expected to see double; hence 11. From that date on many dances, gatherings and comedy shows are organized yet they give a short break over Advent and Christmas. After Christmas the proper carnival preparations begin including festival balls and floating balloons and various costumes changing from region to region.
Even though the parade in Cologne is the most famous one every region in German speaking countries have some celebrations and parades that reflects regional traditions. Here in Freiburg and other Swabian-Alemannic regions carnival has some unique characteristics too. One should not be surprised to see people in wood-carved masks with scary faces that symbolize devils, witches, animals and other “wild characters” (Wilde Leute). One explanation says it goes all the way back to Pagan celebrations and these figures have been the part of the culture to drive out evil spirits and the darkness of the winter. Other explanation says that it developed as a result of Christian understanding of good and evil. The special hand carved masks are beautiful, scary and unique. Parades that take place on Shrove Monday and Tuesday (12-13 February 2018) are named Narrensprünge –fools’ jump. So you jump on that day as a fool so that you can be no-fool for the rest of the year! In this region Rottweil’s Narrensprung is especially famous as far as I heard.
Traditionally the next day is Ash Wednesday (that falls on 14 February 2018) the day people go into fast until Easter – although very few people still observe this tradition. So the initial purpose of the celebrations was to ‘go crazy’ before the start of Lent. Wherever in Germany you are on those dates do not miss local celebrations and enjoy the carnival yourself dressing up and jumping around!
Ps. The photographs are taken by me during the last year’s celebrations.