Thursday, February 27, 2014

German Festival Season - Fastnacht

We can wholeheartedly recommend enjoying Germany in the touristic off-season. During high season from Easter to October touristic highlights are quite often overcrowded. Advent season also sees a surge of visitors – at least in towns with Christmas markets. Late winter though is a marvelously quiet time to visit much of the country (apparently not the Alps and other skiing regions). Of course some sights will be inaccessible but most stay open all year round albeit with restricted opening hours. If your one that gets tired of having museums and castles all to themselves and wants to seek some action then you should consider aligning visiting the country with the carnival season.

Theoretically this season starts on November 11th but it definitely is most lively in January and the beginning of February. The actual week of most of the parades starts the Thursday before Ash Wednesday like our Mardi Gras celebrations in the US. There are different types of carnivals in Germany with the oldest and most traditional  - and in our eyes the most stunning - being found in the South-West of the country. It derived from an age-old custom to dress up with terrifying masks and costumes at the end of the winter to scare away the winter demons which people back then believed in.
 This custom is still kept alive by hundreds of local communities, with each of those villages and towns having their very own and distinct ‘Häs’ (traditional costume) and masks called ‘Larve’, which are intricately carved out of wood. Some groups also have their own battle cries. On weekends and holidays those groups will gather in participating towns and show off their costumes, songs, music, dance and much more in processions that can be watched for free. Many of the spectators also dress themselves up in costumes which are widely available in shops during that time of the year. Fastnacht (or also called Fasching or Fasnet) is going very strong in Southern Germany with gatherings sometimes incorporating thousands of Hästrägern (people wearing traditional costumes) and processions lasting for hours. It’s great fun for kids, even more so since candy is freely handed out by the Hästrägern. But beware: There are also groups, which, instead of candy, drag ‚tortur’-aparatuses with them, so be prepared that you might be victimized by monster-pliers or end up in sort of a human blender......

Written by Anna-Barbara Schmidt

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