As promised, I thought I’d share some photos from the Fasching parade we attended last weekend. So what is Fasching, you ask? Well, it depends on which part of Germany you live in, but in our neck of the woods the pre-Lent Carnival season is called Fasching; in other parts of Germany it’s called Fastnacht, or Karneval. If you’ve ever experienced or heard about Carnival in other parts of the world, you’ll have a rough idea of what it’s all about: basically a big fat party before you give up all the good stuff for Lent.
I think there are many different ideas about where Fasching originally comes from (some claiming it is far more ancient than Christianity), but our teacher gave us the religious explanation and said it’s the time when you wear a disguise so God can’t see you, and go a little crazy with eating, drinking, etc. before giving all of that up for Lent. The most popular food that’s associated with Carnival here in Germany is the Krapfen. It’s a jelly-filled doughnut covered in sugar and is pretty darn delicious. The idea behind the Krapfen, my teacher said, is that you cram as many down your throat as possible (along with drinking beer and eating fatty food) to see you through the long Lent season when you’ve given up all drink and rich foods.
And apart from the eating and drinking, what happens for Carnival? I’ve heard some Americans call it the “German Halloween,” but this really isn’t accurate. Apart from the fact that people dress up in costumes, the similarities pretty much stop there. If I had to give it a label, I’d say it’s almost more a cross between Halloween and an American summer parade, with the underlying theme being “party party party!” It depends a bit on where you live, but here in Würzburg the main event was a huge parade on Sunday morning that went through the city and lasted about three hours. Most children were dressed up in some sort of costume, and many (but not all) adults were, too. Everyone who is in the parade on a float or marching wore some sort of costume, some more crazy than others, each with a theme. Some floats were from nearby surrounding towns and villages, and others were from specific groups. We had no idea who or what a few of them were about. Another interesting aspect to the parade is that many of the floats have a political message. The original idea, my teacher explained, again relates to the theory that God can’t see you in your disguise so you can complain about politics or whatever you want to complain about and no one will know it’s you. Now it’s just evolved into some pretty darn creative and interesting floats that allow you to get a feel for what’s concerning people. One float was about the BP oil spill, another complained about funding cuts for transportation services to and from Würzburg for smaller neighboring towns. Most of the political floats feature representations of political figures, and the city mayor was a popular choice. I found it really interesting that he was actually IN the parade towards the end, so presumably he would have seen floats that were about him.
Each float or group that goes by throws out something to the people in the crowd, yelling a loud “Helau!”, which I guess is the German version of “hello.” Apart from the expected hard candy which was the bulk of the freebies, we got some pretty random stuff. One float threw out herbal tea. Another tossed me a small spray deodorant. It was really good fun. Yelling “helau” back and forth makes the experience really interactive, as they shout it out and you shout back looking up expectantly for goodies. And I like that it’s an event for adults, too, and it’s not just the pint-sized brats getting all the good stuff 😛 I guess the one downside to it is that because of the underlying “party party party” theme, it means some people get really, really drunk. It was interesting because we started out the parade at the beginning of the route, and it was mostly families. We then walked through the heart of the city where all the teenagers and university students had congregated for binge drinking and carousing. It was sticky (from all the spilled beer) and loud. We got out of there pretty quickly. We then headed on to another part of the route where it was quieter and more family friendly again. So if the “partying” aspect of it isn’t your thing, there’s definitely room to enjoy it in other ways.