If you are new to Germany, you are probably wondering, what this fun festival of “Fasching, Fastnet, Fastnacht?” Well, it’s a lot of fun, that’s what it is! This German festival is called a “fools’ night” celebration is one of a kind and an unforgettable part of a visit to Germany. Every February, and sometimes as early as January German towns big and small celebrate with a spectacular costume parade, fest foods, and of course, beer and wine. This colorful, traditional German Festival celebration season begins in the 11th month (November) on the 11th and 11:00 a.m and ends the last week of February with Shrove Monday, Tuesday, and ends around the end of February. Although the official date begins January 6th (Epiphany), many celebrations extend to Ash Wednesday right up until the first weekend of March.
However, this traditional pre-lenten celebration is mostly parades, parties and festivals and takes place all over Europe. In Germany, every area celebrates in their own way. Legend states it began in the Black Forest part of Germany but its making its way all around Germany, this celebration is called “Carnival” in France or Köln (Cologne) and “Marde Gras” in New Orleans. It’s unorthodox, flamboyant revelry has religious roots, pagan tones and is just plain fun!
In Germany, we can count on a “fest” or “festival” almost every weekend in some part of the country. As part of the German Festival culture in Stuttgart, we go from Christmas markets to Fasching-Fastnacht season in a heartbeat. It literally feels like the party never ends here. So embrace and enjoy.
German Festival History
- Why does one celebration have so many names? It really boils down to all the different regions and influences. Just like Christmas markets around Germany, each region celebrates Fasching/Fastnacht/Fasnet with different costumes, typically representing their town. Not all of the costumes make sense, it’s o.k., “go with it.” For instance, one town maybe a pig, another a bird and then sometimes it’s a character or person. Although this celebration season has many different names they are pretty much all observing “pre-lenten” tradition.
- Karneval (Carnival) can be found in the western part of Germany
- Fastnacht – southern part of Germany (some parts of Baden-Württemberg and Bavaria)
- Fasching – northern parts of Germany, like Berlin and Leipzig
- Dating back to the pre-Christian days the Swabian-Alemmanic tribes would celebrate “fasting” from alcohol, milk and eggs until Easter.
A few of my favorite German festivals…
What to look for ~ most towns will not list they are having Fasching/Fastnacht/Fastnet they will post signs for a Narrenzunft or Umzug (which means a parade.)
- Weil der Stadt, February 11, /2 p.m.
- If you live in Stuttgart, I encourage you to take the train, Weil der Stadt is on the S6 line from Stuttgart and very easy to hop on and off
- Ehningen, January 28, 1:31 p.m. (take the train) (whoops – last weekend!)
- Rottweil, February 12 & 13th /8 a.m. (Oldest celebrated parade in Baden-Württemberg) where you’ll see really old costumes dating back to the medieval ages.
- Arrive early and find a parking spot, parade is located on the main street in Rottweil near the town gate
Famous European Parades, Festivals, & Carnivals
- Ptuj, Slovenia – Kurentovanje – February 2 – 13th
- Köln (Carnival) – February 8 – 13th
- Mainz, Germany – February 8 – 14th
- Venice, Italy – January 27 – February 13th
- Madeira, Portugal – February 7 – 14th
- Basel, Switzerland – February 12 – 15th
- Limburg, Netherlands – February 11 – 13th
- Notting Hill, England – August 25 – 27th
What to expect at the parades
- What to wear
- Basically you can wear any kind of “costume” you would like to the parade, from funky wigs, tu-tus, clown pants, or witch costumes, feel free to wave your “freak flag,” it’s perfectly acceptable and actually encouraged.
- When to go
- Arrive early. Whenever the parade begins, I would arrive an hour or two earlier. You can stake out your spot in the parade line, find out where the festival grounds are located and investigate the town just by arriving with the “early bird.”
- Ticket prices
- Be prepared to pay a few Euros per person, up to €5-8/person. Some smaller towns this parade is considered a huge fund-raiser for them so every little bit helps. They usually will give you a bracelet or stamp your hand.
- Differences in parades
- Some parades may not be small child friendly ~ be aware that some costumes and masks are extremely frightening. I’ve seen a few young parents try to help their toddlers “keep it together” when some freakish masks are displayed.
- I find the Rottweil parade and the parades generally in the Black Forest region to be more “family-friendly” and less scary, they celebrate with traditional costumes, music and food.
- The Ehningen parade is a lot of fun, but more suitable for older children, especially teens who love to dress up in scary costumes, and don’t mind being picked up, thrown in a wheelbarrow full of hay and taken off (don’t worry they bring them back)
- ALSO, IF YOU have a special hat, gloves you don’t want to lose forever, DO NOT wear them, those you might not get returned. This has happened more than once. Teasing is absolutely normal, if you have a big smile and are snapping pictures, you’re a target.
More Fasching festival fun
Just can’t get enough of this season? For more information on Fasching ~ check out my blog from 2015, where we investigated all the museums in the Black Forest celebrating the heritage, culture and tradition of this FUN, FUN, season!
Whether you decide to try to go to a few and or to every Fasching parade in Baden-Württemberg, these German festivals will make you laugh, smile and have a great time! Join in the fun because before you know it, it’ll be mid March and we’ll be celebrating the next season, Oster (Easter) Markets. A few of the beauties about living in Germany are embracing the changing seasons and everything the “new season” brings. So don’t fret or be sad if you miss one or two, something great is just a season away.