Karneval, Fasching, and Fastnacht aka the 5th (Party) Season
With the dark and gloomy days of January almost behind us, Germany will soon spring to life during the final week of Carnival. With colourful costumes, parties in the streets and traditions galore, the Carnival has a rich history, so here’s what you should know before the big party!
First of all, why are there so many names for one festival?
You might’ve seen the terms Karneval, Fasching, and Fastnacht before… but what do they all mean? And why is the same celebration known by so many different names?
Each term refers to a slightly different version of Carnival. Karneval originates from the Rhineland or Rhenish Carnival, in parts of the west of Germany, including Cologne. It comes from the 17th century and is a loanword from Romance languages like French and Italian.
The word Fasching has much older origins, from the Middle High German word Vaschang, which referred to the last alcoholic drinks consumed before the start of Lent. It is used prominently in Southern Germany and Austria, areas that are traditionally rooted in religion.
Last but not least, Fastnacht is a common term for the Carnivals held in Swabia (which encompasses parts of Baden-Württemberg and Bayern) and Switzerland. It references the night of foolishness and excess before Lent begins, in a similar way to Fasching.
Each form of Carnival has its own traditions and rules, varying from town to town or state to state.
So what can I expect at Carnival in Germany?
The concept is simple: dress up, party and indulge before the 40 days of Lent begin. This reflects the Catholic origins of the carnival, **and religion and tradition remain central to both Fasching and Fastnacht.
Karneval in the Rhineland takes on a less serious and more satirical tone, with the biggest parade occurring on Rosenmontag, or Rose Monday. Floats depict news stories from the previous year, often mocking politicians and public figures – last year, Vladimir Putin, Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni and various German political figures made a caricature appearance in the form of floats as the procession passed through Cologne’s Altstadt.
The other celebrations of Fasching and Fastnacht don’t quite have the same focus on contemporary events and are very similar to how things would’ve happened a century or more ago. Traditional masks and the classic depictions of the devil, greed, and excess feature heavily.
When does Carnival take place?
The official start point of the activities is the 11th of November at 11:11 AM. Here begins die fünfte Jahreszeit, or the fifth season of the year. In reality, the majority of the celebrations occur in the new year, particularly in February.
Festivities often last for the entire week before Lent, with the last of the partying taking place on Shrove Tuesday. Some of the biggest Karneval parades in the Rhineland happen on Rose Monday, whereas Fasching celebrations take place much earlier in Munich.
Wherever you celebrate, the Carnival period ends on Ash Wednesday, officially denoting the first day of Lent. So say goodbye to the fun and hello to the days of pre-Easter fasting. Why wouldn’t you get involved in the madness of Carnival in Germany!?
How can I get involved?
If you’re here in Berlin (which curiously uses the term Fasching despite its northern location), festivities begin on Weiberfastnacht (Carnival for women) and happens on the 8th of February 2024. Keep an eye out for parades and events across the city. Perhaps you dare to venture further afield and see what other regions of Germany have to offer?
Trouble keeping up with happenings in Germany? Why not subscribe to our newsletter? Coming right to your email inbox every two weeks, keep up to date with expat news in Berlin and beyond.