I’ve now lived in Germany now for three Februarys. Each February a holiday comes along that I’ve never fully understood and until this year I never participated. It’s called Fasching, (the German version of Mardi Gras or Carnevale). It’s a celebration leading up to the Tuesday before Lent. As with Mardi Gras or Carnevale the idea is that people should really party it up and indulge before they get serious about Easter. Here in Germany though, they take the idea to a whole new level.
It starts in mid-January and takes up the entire month of February. For some cities in Northern Germany, like Cologne, it’s a holiday that starts in November and goes straight through til spring.
There are parades in every town, social clubs dedicated solely to getting ready for and celebrating Fasching. Everyone dresses up in elaborate costumes; there are endless variety-type comedy shows that make fun of politicians. Best though, Fasching Time features a delightful pastry called Fasching’s Krapfen. This snack can be pretty easily translated to jelly donut. In Northern Germany, its called a Berliner. (Thus the joke about JFK. In his defense though, a person from Berlin is also called a Berliner.) Maybe the Krapfen are akin to the Pennsylvania Dutch Fasnachts, but I’m not sure because I’ve never eaten a Fasnacht.
It probably comes as no surprise that my favorite part of this holiday is the Krapfen. The traditional ones are covered in either powdered or chrystalized sugar and the ones in Franconia are filled with a Rosehip marmalade. Some very talented people make them at home but you don’t need to because every bakery has them. They are not greasy at all, you can hardly tell they are fried. The dough is light and fluffy and ever since they appeared about a month ago, I just want to eat them every day.
I have fully missed why people dress up in costumes for Fasching, so I did some research. Here is what I discovered: First, for millennia Fasching has been a celebration to ward off of winter. Some people attribute the costumes to actually trying to scare the Winter away. There is evidence of parades that date back to Roman times and historically, the servants dressed up like their masters and were able to actually make fun of them for a few days. During Fasching it was typical to poke fun at the aristocracy and everything was generally turned upside down–drinking and partying were acceptable and the clowns of the society became the most respected figures. It was even a time during the year when people were able to criticize authority without getting into trouble. That part seems to have stuck, explaining all the roasts on television about the local politicians.
The photos below are from parades in nearby towns over the weekend. It’s pretty neat to see. The local farmers lend or rent their tractors and act as the drivers for the floats. Each different club has a float and the members stand on top throwing candy to everyone. The kids race around collecting as much candy as possible and every single town seems to have their own slang so I can hardly understand any of the jokes. There are bands and dancers and everyone shouts Helau! (This word seems to be related to warding off evil or welcoming spring but its actually meaning must date back pretty far–I had to look it up because no one could explain what it means.)
The whole holiday makes more sense and seems more fun now that I understand it. Little Mouse is still pretty small but I bet next year she’ll be old enough to be a interested in wearing a costume. All the local kindergartens walk in the parade, so I guess eventually she’ll get to be in it herself! She has already made her interest in Krapfen very clear- a girl after my own heart.