Carnival ABC for jesters and revellers alike
It’s Weiberfastnacht and that means that the German carnival season is about to start! For all of you carnival lovers who want to know more about the so-called fifth season, here’s a little ABC – from C for costumes right through to L for "Lieder".
On Weiberfastnacht, or Fat Thursday as it’s called in other countries, cities across Germany turn into real party towns at exactly 11:11AM when the carnival officially kicks off. From Weiberfastnacht, the Thursday before Shrove Tuesday, right through to Ash Wednesday, revellers celebrate the “fifth season” – as it’s called in Germany. Aside from “Karneval,” you’ve probably heard of it being referred to as “Fastnacht” or “Fasching,” right? Regions such as Hesse, Saarland, Franconia, Baden and Württemberg, as well as Upper Bavaria and Switzerland, call it “fastnacht.” This is made up of two words from Old High German – "fasta" (Lent) and "naht" (Night) and is, understandably, used to describe the period of time before fasting begins. In Saxony, Bavaria and Austria, however, the carnival season is called “fasching.” This too, has something to do with lent and is derived from the word "fastenschank," which was the name given to the selling of alcoholic drinks before lent. Last but by no means least, there is of course, the word – “Karneval,” which is used and very much celebrated in Cologne, Bonn, Aachen and Dusseldorf. However, the origin of this word is not so clear, allegedly, it comes from the Middle Latin – "carne levare", which means "meat farewell" and so that too would allude to lent and the traditional practice of giving up meat.
More facts about the fifth season we have summarized for you in a small carnival ABC:
C ...for costumes
Costumes are a fundamental ingredient of the carnival, just like the tomato sauce on the pizza. But where does this tradition come from? Carnival falls right in the middle between the end of winter and the beginning of spring. In the past, people believed that they should ward off evil spirits at the end of winter to make sure that spring could come in – and they did that by dressing up in costumes, putting on masks and making a lot of noise with bells and musical instruments. The tradition of getting dressed up in costumes has continued to today – but it’s uncertain whether the spirits of nurses, clowns etc. are scared off as effectively today.
A ... for Alaaf
Everyone who’s been to the German carnival will have heard the shout "Kölle Alaaf" countless times. But what does this mean? Translated literally "Alaaf" means "above all else", in combination with "Kölle" it means “Köln über alles" or “Cologne above all else.” According to experts, this phrase has been used since the 16th century! "Kölle Alaaf", however, is not only used to identify the jesters from Cologne, but is also used as a cheer to rally up the crowds. Therefore, during carnival time you’ll hear this chant in Bonn and Aachen too. But beware, don’t get caught shouting “Alaaf” in Dusseldorf, here revellers shout "Helau" or "Ahoi" instead.
R ... for Rio
Carnival is not only celebrated in Germany - the world's most famous carnival takes place every year in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. In Rio, the many samba schools compete against each other on the streets. The "fighting arena" is called the Sambódrom. Each samba school has exactly 82 minutes to impress the audience. When they’ve all finished they are then judged on their costumes, harmoniousness, music and overall creativity. On Ash Wednesday, the whole country follows the award ceremony live at the carnival or in front of the TV, waiting in anticipation to find out who the jury choose as the lucky winners.
N ... for “Narren” and “Jecken”
In German, the words "Narr" and "Jeck" basically mean the same thing and can be loosely translated as “jester,” or someone who enjoy making jokes and celebrating carnival. Nowadays, these words are used to describe everyone who goes along to the carnival. The only difference is that the term "Jeck" is used in the Rhineland, and "Narr" is used everywhere else.
I ... for interesting number
Interestingly, the more you look to more you see number eleven popping up again and again in the context of the carnival. It’s become widely used because of the official start of carnival, which took place on 11th November - 11.11. Also the Elferrat – our council of 11, has eleven members, as the name suggests. This council usually takes on the organisational tasks and as such they are in charge of organising all of the carnival meetings and parades. Traditionally, only men are allowed in the Elferrat councils, but some have since relaxed their rules and also welcome women too.
V ... for Veilchendienstag
The Narren and Jecken party hard on Veilchendienstag or Shrove Tuesday (known in the UK as Pancake Day), the day before Ash Wednesday which is the last day of the carnival. There are even some carnival parades on this day, but they’re not quite as extravagant as in the weeks before. Veilchendienstag marks the transition into Lent which lasts until Easter and the aim is to eat all the things that you will miss before fasting!
A ... for alternative carnival
The alternative carnival shows that carnival can be serious too. In this version of the carnival, it is not just countless jokeson offer, but also a chance to criticise the current state of affairs with regard to both political and social problems. This carnival involves a ghost train on the Saturday night, no cars are take part, just people dressed as ghosts or in dark clothes. Political cabaret artists also vent their anger at the so-called “Stunksitzungen” events that have been taking place in the Cologne area since 1984.
L ... for “Lieder”
It just wouldn’t be carnival without the classic carnival “Lieder” or songs. Classics like "Kölsche Jung", "Ich will keine Schokolade" and "Et jitt kei Wood" are not be missed. Those who don’t know these songs yet but would like to prepare for their visit to the carnival should really learn all of the choruses by heart.
Whether you celebrate Carnival, Fasching or Fastnacht – we wish you a fun fifth season!