Explore Germany between mid-November and right before the Christian fasting period of Lent starts: for the 5th season of the year, the 'silly season' – a celebratory time for all Carnival fans, be they in Cologne, Mainz or Lake Constance! A special hotspot is found around the river Rhine, which travels all along the most Western German states. Yet dress-up parties and jolly parades are not just popular there: Southern German jesters also look back on centuries-long traditions of "Fasching". Whether you explore Franconian Würzburg or Swabian Memmingen – rites such as "Narrensprünge" (loosely translated as 'jesters jumps'), "Hexentänze" ('witch dances') and Carnival parades are deeply rooted here, too. Mardi Gras, Carnival, "Fasching" or "Fasnet" – to enjoy the 'silly season' between 11/11 and Ash Wednesday, visit Germany's numerous Carnival metropolises and ease your winter blues!
"Jecken" along River Rhine – "Narren" around River Main
While present-day Germany looks pretty uniform from the outside, the long-standing history of individual German regions with independent principalities and different religious affiliations has left many traces – especially in a variety of interesting dialects and fun-to-explore regional traditions! United by light-heartedness, a zest for life and a love for parties, here is something that varies between different locales: the start of Carnival! While most of Germany calls for the start of the 'silly season' on 11/11 at 11:11am, in the German Southwest it doesn't start until Three Kings' Day, January 6. Carnival season is also referred to as "Session" in German – which means 'meeting' or 'assembly'. So come and join the Carnival festivities!
Some insights into regional Carnival customs: No „Helau“ in Cologne
On Carnival Thursday – also called 'Women's Day' or in Cologne's dialect „Wieverfastelovend“ ("wieve" similar to English 'wives' for 'women') – women run around cutting off men's ties and may kiss whomever they fancy. To an outsider, this may seem a little crazy. But it is a long-standing tradition in the Rhineland: On this day – also known as "Altweiberfasching" ('Old Women's Carnival') – women are actively remembering the 1824 washer-women revolt.
Vocabulary and words are of crucial importance when exploring the different regions' traditions: Carnival fools or jesters go by different names in different regions: Along the Rhine, they are called "Jecken", in Mainz they go by "Narren". And to keep you happy and enjoying yourself: Please, never, ever enter a bar or pub in Cologne shouting "Helau". This is a Düsseldorf custom, just like the delicious beer called "Kölsch" is best ordered in Cologne ("Köln").
Even if the Rhineland's basic Carnival traditions call for tolerance and forgiving attitudes when it comes to all jesters, Carnival comes with a certain set of 'practices' that people along the Rhine absorb from the womb. To help you make friends during the silly season and enjoy your visit to the max: Yell "Alaaf" and speak about "Carnival" along the river Rhine – and stick to "Helau" and "Fasching" when meeting jesters in more Southern regions and the rest of Germany.
Parades, parades – Germany loves Carnival parades
Rose Monday or the Sunday before, just as the Carnival season comes to a close, many places stage parades and present their most colourful outfits. "Zoch" – from German "Zug" meaning 'train' – as these are also called in the Rhineland date back to the 19th century. Even back then it wasn't just a dress parade with colourful floats – tradition has it that these parades are also the perfect stage for satire about contemporary politics and government!
These days, it is up to local Carnival clubs to choose the year's motto, pick bands and nominate Carnival dancing groups to participate in the parades – a huge honour. Cologne's Rose Monday Parade is one of the most popular ones in Germany – attracting tourists from all over the world. Rio's motto also applies to Cologne: "Carnival is not for work, it's for celebrating!" Everybody takes the day off – and shops stay closed.
Fun and funny times galore
Up to a million spectators follow the parade in Cologne's streets. And more than 10,000 people actively participate in this world-famous succession. It is not just visually appealing: Sweet "Kamelle" are generously handed out to the crowds. Traditionally, is used to be caramel drops but these days there are other sugary treats, too. Don't miss out on this delicious highlight!
People in Mainz are also proud of their Carnival parade. For more than 170 years, their Rose Monday parade has been the pinnacle of their "Fastnacht" proceedings. In Swabia, for example around Rottweil, you will also find an interesting local dimension of Carnival tradition: with regional jesters' costumes ("Narrenhäs") and marching bands for music ("Guggenmusik").
So when is Carnival? It depends...
Every year, the 'silly season' has slightly different dates. Ash Wednesday is the seventh Wednesday before Easter or the 46th day before Easter Sunday. Given the reference point of Easter, Carnival season can vary a fair bit in dates. This is because Easter Sunday is bound to be the first Sunday after the first full moon in spring. What also plays into this is a church ruling from the 11th century that sets the 40 days of Lent. How long "Fasching" lasts any given year therefore depends on the ever-changing date of Easter.
Plan early for your Carnival in Germany
If you would like to attend the Rose Monday Parade in Mainz, arranging for some holidays in February is recommended – as is looking for a centrally located hotel early. And ladies, make sure you jot down 'Women's Day', the Thursday before Rose Monday, in your calendar – for an extra-fun time for you and your girlfriends!
Mainz or Munich – the 'silly season' abounds with joy and cheerfulness and creative costumes! Confetti and sweet "Kamelle" meet light-heartedness and sillyness in the middle of winter for Carnival. season every year: Participate and enjoy – "Alaaf" and "Helau"!
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