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Carnival in Germany, Switzerland and Austria

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Title: Carnival in Germany, Switzerland and Austria  
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Carnival in Germany, Switzerland and Austria

A Funkemariechen (majorette) is lifted at Cologne Carnival

A variety of customs and traditions are associated with Carnival celebrations in the German-speaking countries of Germany, Switzerland and Austria. They can vary considerably from country to country, but also from one smaller region to another. This is already reflected in the various names given to these festivities occurring before Lent.


In parts of East and South Germany, as well as in Austria, the carnival is called Fasching. In Franconia and Baden-Württemberg as well as some other parts of Germany, the carnival is called Fastnacht or Fasnet; in Switzerland, Fasnacht or Fasnet.

While Germany's carnival traditions are mostly celebrated in the predominantly Roman Catholic southern and western parts of the country, the Protestant North traditionally knows a festival under the Low Saxon names Fastelavend , Fastelabend [ˈfastl̩.ˌɒːbm̩t] and Fastlaam (also spelled Fastlom) [ˈfastl̩ɒːm]. This name has been imported to Denmark as Fastelavn and is related to Vastelaovend in the Low-Saxon-speaking parts of the Netherlands. It is traditionally connected with farm servants or generally young men going from house to house in the villages and collecting sausages, eggs and bacon, which was consumed in a festivity on the same evening. While going from house to house they wore masks and made noise. The old tradition vanished in many places, in other places under influence of German carnival traditions it came to resemble carnival with its parades.

Beginning and peak of the festival season

The carnival session, also known as the "Fifth Season", begins each year on 11 November at 11:11 a.m. and finishes on Ash Wednesday of the following year with the main festivities happening around "Rosenmontag" (Rose Monday).

Although the festivities and parties start as early as the beginning of January, the actual carnival week starts on the Thursday ("Weiberfastnacht") before Ash Wednesday (in Germany). The big German carnival parades are held on the weekend before and especially on Rosenmontag, the day before Shrove Tuesday, and sometimes also on Shrove Tuesday ("Faschingsdienstag") itself in the suburbs of larger carnival cities. In Austria, festivities tend to culminate sooner, on "Faschingsamstag", the Saturday before Rosenmontag.


In German-speaking countries, there are essentially 2 distinct variations of Carnivals: the Rhenish Carnival in the west of Germany, centred on the cities of Düsseldorf, Cologne and Mainz, and the Alemannic or Swabian-Alemannic Fastnacht in Swabia (Southwestern Germany), Switzerland, Alsace and Vorarlberg (Western Austria).

The Rhenish Carnival (Rheinischer Karneval), mainly in the states of (North Rhine-Westphalia and Rhineland-Palatinate) is famous for celebrations such as parades and costume balls. Cologne carnival is the largest and most famous. Cologne, Düsseldorf and Mainz are held in the public media to be Germany's three carnival "strongholds," but carnival celebrations are also widespread elsewhere in the Rhineland, in places such as Wattenscheid, Hagen, Krefeld, Aachen, Mönchengladbach, Duisburg, Bonn, Eschweiler, Bocholt and Kleve.


In the Rhineland festivities developed especially strongly, since it was a way to express subversive anti-Prussian and anti-French thoughts in times of occupation, through parody and mockery. Modern carnival there began in 1823 with the founding of a Carnival Club in Cologne. Most cities and villages of the Rhineland have their own individual carnival traditions. Nationally famous are the carnival in Cologne (Köln), Düsseldorf and Mainz.

In the Rhineland, the culmination of the carnival around French Revolution values of "egalité, liberté, fraternité."

The carnival spirit is then temporarily suspended during Bonn and Aachen: Alaaf!; Düsseldorf and Mainz: Helau!). The carnival in the Netherlands is partially derived from the Rhenish carnival.

Alemannic Fastnacht


The "Swabian-Alemannic" carnival is known as Fastnacht, where Fast(en)-Nacht means the eve of the Fastenzeit (lent). Variants of the name are Fasnet, Fasnacht or Fasent. This celebration begins on January 6 (Epiphany/Three Kings Day).

Fastnacht is held in Baden-Württemberg, parts of Bavaria, and Alsace. Switzerland and Vorarlberg, in Austria, also hold this celebration. The festival starts on the Thursday before Ash Wednesday, known in these regions as Schmutziger Donnerstag, Schmutzige-Dunschdig or Fettdonnerstag. In standard German, schmutzig means "dirty", but actually the name is from the local dialect where schmotzig means "fat." In comparison, Carnival in New Orleans celebrates Fat Tuesday or Shrove Tuesday, reflecting the practice of the last night of eating richer, fatty foods before Ash Wednesday, the start of the ritual fasting of the Lenten season. Also, in Germany, this is the time of year at the end of winter when the last of the meat from the previous year is the Schmalz, also spelled Schmaltz, or rendered fat, and this is consumed before the start of Lent. The name - Fasnacht - in its different variations is the reference to the time before the coming fasting time of Lent.

In particular regions of Tyrol, Salzburg and Bavaria traditional processions of the Perchten welcome the springtime. The Schönperchten ("beautiful Perchts") represent the birth of new life in the awakening nature, the Schiachperchten ("ugly Perchts") represent the dark spirits of wintertime. Farmers yearn for warmer weather and the Perchtenlauf (Run of Perchts) is a magical expression of that desire. The nights between winter and spring, when evil ghosts are supposed to go around, are also called Rauhnächte.

See also

External links

  • German Karneval, Fastnacht und Fasching in (in German)
  • German Karneval, Fastnacht und Fasching in (in English)

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