Tag Archives: Carnival in Germany Switzerland and Austria

Helau and Alaaf – Carnival Tradition in Germany



This upcoming Thursday, certain cities in Germany, including my hometown Dusseldorf, are going to be crowded with thousands of people – adults as well as children – dressed up in costumes. Welcome to the yearly tradition of Carnival.  For those of you who have never heard of this festivity before, I would describe it as a mixture of Halloween (minus the scary costumes) plus Mardi Gras.

Due to the fact that I grew up in a so-called Carnival central city, I basically was born into the tradition.  Today I can gladly say that I don’t miss it one bit, but back when I was living in Europe I did feel obligated to participate.  So what does Carnival consist of?

This time of the year, which is also named the 5th season, actually starts in November on 11-11 at 11:11 a.m., but the peak of the tradition happens around late February/ beginning of March on a Thursday.  That day called “Altweiber” (old women), it is common at work for women to cut off the men’s ties with scissors and then celebrate on the streets and at bars till late at night.

The highlight of the Carnival celebration is held on Monday with the Rose Monday parades, which are very popular in the cities of Dusseldorf, Cologne, and Mainz.  The 5th season usually ends that following Wednesday, called Ash Wednesday.

To sum it up, Carnival is one of the biggest events celebrated in Germany with parades, costume balls, and street parties.  There are two popular cries that you would be hearing a lot during this time: Helau in Dusseldorf and Mainz, and Alaaf in Cologne, Bonn, and Aachen.

I personally enjoyed this celebration more when I was a little kid in kindergarten and elementary school.  I mean, what kid doesn’t like to dress up.  My favorite costume of all time used to be a cat.  Cats were my favorite animal back then, so luckily for my parents they could recycle my costume every year and didn’t have to get a new one.

Being an adult, I never found it too appealing to put on a costume and get drunk on the streets, even though I participated a couple times.

What changed my perception a little bit was when I actually joined a show dance group that performed during masquerade balls.  I received this opportunity when I was living with my sister in a very small town in the mountains.

A friend of a friend happened to be one of the dancers, and since I loved dancing and had been doing it throughout my entire life, I saw the chance to become part of the group through that connection since they were in need of an additional performer.

For two years I was a member of this group.  And what can I say, I loved it.  I loved rehearsing for the show, performing on stage, and participating in tournaments.  But I still wasn’t too fond about everything else that included Carnival.

Once it was clear that I would be moving to the United Stands, I obviously had to end my time with this group.  It was a fun two years, but I am not missing it much nowadays.  But for everyone else who is a great fan of Carnival, have fun out there these next couple of days!

Image: pixabay.com
Anne-KathrinAnne-Kathrin Schulte, is a contributor for CaliforniaGermans.com. She writes on her personal experience of the American Dream as well as on working as an au pair in CA. She was born and grew up in Düsseldorf, Germany, where she completed her degree as a state-approved Kindergarten teacher. After her au pair engagement in the US and a quick return to Germany she decided to attend university in California and moved back to the United States. She has been living in Southern California since 2011.

If you would like to contact Anne-Kathrin, please send an email to californiagermans(at)gmail.com and place her name in the subject line.



Fasching, Fastnacht, Carnival – Helau!


Are you ready for the last days of Fasching? Yes, the Carnival or ‘närrische Zeit’ of the year as some name it is coming to an end. The last week of Fasching, the actual ‘Fastnachtswoche’,  is starting this Thursday with the Weiberfastnacht culminating in Rosenmontag (Rose Monday) and  Faschings-Dienstag (also called Veilchendienstag) before Ash Wednesday calls an end to the time of costume balls and masquerade parades and fun.

HISTORICAL Roots of Fasching

Even though some of the carnival’s roots go back to the Romans and their festivals of Saturnalia and Bacchanalia, the tradition of the Fasching and Carnival as we know it now started in the medieval times. Originally tied to the Liturgical Year Church Calendar Fasching or Carnival started officially on January 6th , Epiphany or ‘Dreikönigsfest’, and ended on Ash Wednesday ringing in the 40 days of Lent, during which time no rich foods, such as meat, dairy, fats and sugar and alcohol were allowed.

In 1823 a special Carnivals committee in Cologne decided to have carnival begin on the 11. of November the same day as St. Martin’s Day but at the exact time of 11:11am. This seemed to create the perfect “Carnival date” of the 11.11 of any year at 11:11am.  In Cologne carnival is part of the city’s history and this date marked the day of the official initiation of the Faschings Prince and Princess and the starting of costume balls and masquerade parties.

Carnival or Fasching – “Say Good-Bye to Meat & Alcohol”

The word Carnival evolved most likely  from the Latin words carne and vale which means something like “say good-bye to meat”, announcing the time of fasting that would follow the excessive partying.

Fasching , Fastnacht or Fasnacht (Switzerland) refers to the long night before the fasting starts . In fact the ‘long night’ means actually the six days from Thursday (Weiberfastnacht) to Faschingsdienstag (Tuesday before ash Wednesday). The word is thought to come from fasting and night but folk etymological roots point also to the word “Fastenschank”, which means the last (alcoholic) drink before the fasting.

The term Fasching is mostly used in Bavaria and Austria.

Carnival and Fasching Traditions

How Carnival is celebrated varies from region to region within Germany, Austria and Switzerland, and of course it takes on quite a different color and flavor if we go outside the German speaking countries. Think of the celebrations in other countries, like the Carnival in Venice or the one in Rio, Brazil!

Parades and costume balls are custom all over Germany during carnival season with the biggest and most famous ones in Cologne, Mainz and Düsseldorf happening on Rosenmontag (Rose Monday). During this time scathing political and social commentary, fantastic costumes and normal citizens in the role of kings and princes, knights and generals are part of the fun while the rich and pretentious in society are ridiculed by “fools” and Court jesters.

An institution for every serious Carnival Club is having an official “Faschings Prinzenpaar”, the Carnival’s designated Prince and Princess, who are getting elected for the Faschings season on November 11th and will guide the crowd of “Faschings fools” (das Narrenvolk) through all festivities.

Faschings KrapfenThe two most used traditional salutations in Germany during Carnival are “Helau” and “Alaaf”.  And what is the most famous Faschings food?

The “Faschings” Krapfen!      This delicacy resembles a doughnut, but definitely is not one, and it is absolutely essential to have them for every Faschings party!

Many regions have their very own special Fasching traditions. In Munich for example everyone looks forward to the Tanz der Marktweiber at the Viktualienmarkt (dance of the merchant women of the Viktualienmarkt) on Schäfflertanz in MünchenFaschingsdienstag (Tuesday),  the Schäfflertanz and the traditional Weisswurstessen (Bavarian White sausage feast) on Rosenmontag (Rose Monday). On that day every guest in the inner city is invited by the local restaurants to indulge on a Weisswurst for Euro 1 each. But only from 9am to 12noon, since a Weisswurst needs to have been eaten before the midday’s bell ringing!

weisswurstOh, and did you know…?  The Weisswurst ‘was born’ in Munich on Rosenmontag during Fasching in 1857!

Plan your own Faschings Party

Outside of Germany, Austria and Switzerland it’s sometimes hard to find traditional German foods. We are always on the search, and so far GermanDeli’s online store has never disappointed us and stays our favorite. Their “Brezen” are delicious and, if you are looking for Faschings-Krapfen to highlight your own Faschingsparty, you can find them at their online store too!

To top it all of, you can even host a traditional Weisswurstessen! We found Weisswürste, the typical sweet Mustard that goes with it, Brezen and Weissbier all at GermanDeli.com. Just make sure your “Weisswurst” is all eaten before the bell rings in noon!

So, here is to you!

Helau and Alaaf! Have a fun Carnival Week!

DATES for 2013:
Weiberfastnacht: Feb. 7, 2013
Rosenmontag: Feb. 11, 2013
Faschingsdienstag: Feb. 12, 2013
Aschermittwoch: Feb. 13, 2013
Wikipedia Germany
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