Karneval/Fasching/Fasnacht/Fastnacht/Fastelabend are pre-Lenten festivities celebrated in the Catholic regions of German-speaking countries — although some other regions have decided to join in on the fun. There are two main types of observances: Rheinisch and Schwäbisch-Allemanisch. Karlsruhe is on the border geographically and, therefore, aspects of both types of celebrations can be found in the region.

Either love it or hate it — for some people, this is the most important time of the year; for others, it is an excuse to skip town. If you are new to the area, take the time to observe or partake in the celebrations and decide for yourself.

Rheinische Karneval

The "Rhineland" carnival usually begins on the 11.11. at 11:11 am. For Catholics, the origin comes from a festive season of eating and drinking before the Lenten fasting period. Other traditions can be traced back to a dislike of Prussians and French (because of the occupation after the French Revolution), whereby local politicians, the military and religious leaders were mocked — hidden behind the safety of a mask.

The largest cities celebrating are Cologne, Düssseldorf, and Mainz. There are loads of costume balls, celebrations and large parades, where the floats offer rather scathing political commentary.

The costumes are often clowns and nuns, along with pirates and cowboys — usually nothing creepy.

Schwäbische-Allemanische Fasching

The "Swabian-Alemannic" carnival begins on January 7th (day after Epiphany) and is celebrated in southwest Germany, Switzerland, Alsace and Voralberg. In pre-Christian times, carnival celebrations symbolized the driving out of winter and all the evil spirits.

The main celebrations begin on "Schmutziger Donnerstag" or "Fettdonnerstag" (literally Fat Thursday).

The participants often wear wooden masks and special costumes (Narrenhäs) meant to scare away evil spirits.

Some things not to miss:

Parades - either smaller ones in the different sections of the city (Durlach, Grötzingen) or the big parade through Karlsruhe on Shrove Tuesday. An estimated 15 to 18 tons of candy (Kamellen) or other toys or flowers are thrown to the crowd.

Morgestraich in Basel  starting at 4 am! This event is held on the Monday after Ash Wednesday and is the beginning of the Basel Fasnacht (which lasts for 72 hours). The whole city is dark (even the streetlights and storefronts are turned off) and the parade through the streets is illuminated by lanterns and lit-up floats marching through the streets.


Important Dates:

The most important dates are from Thursday before Ash Wednesday until Ash Wednesday:

Weiberfastnacht/Schmutize Donnerstag (Schmudo):  Literally translated "old ladies" or "dirty Thursday". The day begins with women storming into and symbolically taking over city hall. Then women will snip off the tie from any man that passes their way. The day ends with people going to local bars in costume. This tradition is wide-spread in the city halls in Karlsruhe and the region. If you are worried that it will also take place at your work, stock up on cheap ties.

Rosenmontag (Monday before Ash Wednesday):  The large parades in Cologne, Düsseldorf and Mainz are on this day - and are even televised.  If the weather is good, upwards of a million visitors come out. In the Rhineland, many stores etc. close for day. In Karlsruhe, it is a normal day.

Faschingsdienstag (Tuesday before Ash Wednesday - Shrove Tuesday): Starting at 14:11, the largest parade in the region in Karlsruhe begins. Many stores, businesses and government offices close either for the day, or at least the afternoon. The parade winds through the main streets of Karlsruhe.

Some terms you may see or hear:

Alaaf! Helau! NarriNarro! is used as a greeting in the carnival time period. Each state, region and even sometimes city section can have a different call. Listen to what is most used in your region, especially during the parade.

Zunft - is the local Fasching club and is organized to keep the traditions alive.

Schmudo - is short for Schmutzige Donnerstag.

Hexen - witches

Narrenhäs- is the costume found in the Swabian-Alemannic festivities consisting of a hand-carved mask and hand-sewn costume. Because these are rather complicated and expensive costumes, they are made to be worn for a lifetime — and passed on through generations. Each town or village has 2 to 4 figures associated with that region.

Guggenmusik - band playing only brass and drum instruments - very rhythmically, often not quite correctly, but definitely loudly - enough to want to get up and move! All those playing are dressed up in costumes and often masks.

Prunksitzung/Karnevalsitzung - is a celebration or session of a carnival group (Verein) consisting of a variety of song and dance performances, satirical speeches, comedy sketches — often in dialect. Those invited should come in costume. The largest of these Karnevalsitzungen are shown on TV.

Umzug /Gaudiwurm,/Lindwurm - is the parade where the various Carnival clubs participate either as a musical group or with a float. If they have a float, those on the float will throw candy (Kamellen) or other things to the crowd

Büttenrede - is a speech often rather political, mostly funny and usually understood best by insiders.

Faschingszoll - is the Fasching "customs duty" and usually is set up by children in more rural regions or smaller towns on Faschingsdienstag (Day before Ash Wednesday). Sometimes a street is blocked and the kids demand a "Faschingszoll" in order to pass - this can be candy or some coins. Be careful when it gets dark - the kids aren't always easy to see.