25 February, 2015

Fasnet (Carnival) in Southern Germany

Winter in Germany can get long, cold and dark, so it's no surprise that Germans have found a fun way to fight the winter blues: Fasnet!

Part of a parade in the town of Bad Waldsee, about 10 minutes by car from where I live.
Fasnet, also known as Fasching or Fastnacht depending on the region, is a yearly winter carnival in southern Germany which takes place during the days leading up to Ash Wednesday, aka, right before Lent. This year, since I'm actually in a place to experience it, I had no choice but to see it for myself. (I was in Berlin last year during Fasnet/Fasching/Fastnacht, where this southern German tradition is not celebrated.)

The festivities during Fasnet revolve around parades, costumes and, in typical German fashion, drinking. Each of the towns in this area have their own parade with their own traditions, and they typically have their parades on different days, which means you can go to several towns over the course of a week and not miss any of the action. My first and most exciting taste of Fasnet was in Bad Waldsee, a small town about ten minutes from Bad Wurzach where I live. Before I got to the parade, I had already been filled in by Maxim's family regarding the specific traditions of Fasnet. The highlight of the parades are the Narren (singular Narr), or people dressed in costumes and masks. The masks are elaborately carved out of wood and are typically quite old. Each town has a club which is responsible for the masks and costumes and which organizes the groups for the parades. Participating in the parade as a Narr is very popular, so people have to apply in order to be able to wear one of the masks in the parade. There are five different Narren and each has a different costume and mask.

Near the beginning of the parade. You can see how the town has been decorated for the occassion.

Here you have a good view of the masks. These people are dressed as witches.

More of the decorations, and a few people in costume.
As you can see from the pictures, the town is decorated with colorful banners in honor of Fasnet and many people attend the festivities in costume, much like Americans on Halloween. (Unfortunately I wasn't able to get many good pictures of the parade, because of where we were standing.) The parade itself was much like many American parades, besides the carved wooden masks on many of the participants: people gave out candy, bands played music, and every so often groups of Narren stopped to entertain people with some acrobatics. Many of the Narren, and even people not in masks, grabbed onlookers and dragged them into the parade for a while before turning them loose again. Something very un-American was the abundance of alcohol in attendance: large numbers of people watching the parade were drinking beer, and some of the Narren were handing out tiny bottle of schnapps instead of candy or sharing shots of unidentified alcoholic beverages with people they knew in the crowd.

As with all German events of this kind, despite the abundance of alcohol it was clearly a family-friendly event. People of all ages turned out to see the parade, from babies and small children to 80-year-old grandparents. It's a fun yearly tradition for the whole family, and besides one ambulance coming through to pick up someone who, I found out later, had fallen and hit their head, everything went smoothly.

A few days after the parade in Bad Waldsee, I went to see a similar parade in my town of Bad Wurzach. This parade, while longer, was less energetic than the first one and the Narren were not handing out candy or schnapps, but I got a lot more pictures of this one. There were groups of Narren from all over the region and they all had different costumes and masks.

Brass band

I thought this guy was funny. He saw me taking a picture and tried to pull me into the parade but luckily I was standing on a snowbank safely out of reach :)

Many of the groups made human pyramids. This must have been very difficult in those heavy wooden masks.

Another brass band.

This was by far the most impressive pyramid of the day! This is another group of witches like in the photo from Bad Waldsee; you can see their broomsticks on the ground.

These parades also correspond with time off from school for kids (between 3 and 5 days depending on the school) and time off from work for adults (I think). Lots of beer is consumed, pubs and bars are packed, and people generally take advantage of the free time to enjoy themselves. During the day and evening following the parade in Bad Wurzach there was a tent set up where those who were of age could go party. We didn't go in, since we walked over to check it out during the time after the parade when only people in costume were allowed in. Even from the outside the tent looked huge, and I'm sure it would get quite lively later in the evening.

I have to admit that some of this is almost two weeks old and I've been super slow getting this post out. The main events of Fasnet took place between Thursday, February 12th and Wednesday, February 18th (which was Ash Wednesday). We went to the parade in Bad Waldsee on that Thursday and the one in Bad Wurzach the following Monday. Ash Wednesday was the final free day for the high school in Bad Wurzach and the first day of Lent. Now that Lent has started, we are in the more serious time between Fasnet and Easter, when we will next have a reason to celebrate something. I hope the snow disappears by then!


  1. great pics! We had celebrations here in Leipzig although I missed a lot of it as I had stuff on already!

    1. I'm glad you liked them! Are the celebrations in Leipzig similar to what we have here in the south?

  2. What a fun festival to get to see I love all the costumes!

    1. Yeah, it was nice to get to experience such an important part of the local culture. The costumes are great! Especially the masks, some of them are works of art! There was one that I really liked with frogs and lizards around the face but unfortunately I didn't get a picture of that one.