So I’ve been in Germany for almost 4 years now, I’ve experienced the beautiful 5th season of Karneval before, I’ve been to Fasching parades and parties, hell, and I’ve even written an Insiders guide to Fasching in Franconia. Maybe I got smug that I ‘had this one covered’ since ‘I’ve done this before’, when this happens Germany usually turns around and
bites me on the bum kicks some humble into me.
MrC and I had planned to go to the Fastnachtsumzug (a parade) in Weil der Stadt, it’s the one that most people around Stuttgart go to, it’s massive and extremely popular with locals and also with tourists. Unfortunately due to a terrifically awful nights sleep, I woke up like the proverbial bear with a sore head and a 2.5hour round trip to stand in the cold for a few hours was not on my list of things I had to do today. Fortunately a little googling later we realised that the next town over had its Fasching parade today and was a mere 5 minute bus ride (and a short walk away), sold! Murr here we come.
When we arrived, the party was already well underway, we stopped at the first open bakery for Berliners (doughnuts, but in Franconia they’re the more amusingly named Krapfen), Pretzels and some Glühwein from a kiosk outside. Tummies filled, we had an hour to kill before the parade started. At Fastnacht it isn’t only the children who dress up, anyone can, and does, and whilst I was unendingly grateful for the lack of mankinis (it was about 3degrees after all) I’m a little sorry that I didn’t have a costume myself. My attempt at being somewhat festive stopped at a flower headband in the colours of the German flag, and it’s a good job I wasn’t attached to it.
The word Fastnacht comes from the old German word ‘fasen’ which means ‘to be foolish, silly or wild’ and nacht meaning night and I can confirm that today behaviour was all of the above. It’s a time where Germans and Germany let loose before the period of lenten fasting begins, all fun is allowed, there are plenty of parody and controversial floats, as well as the more traditional masks and costumes.
The floats that take part in the parade are put together by various local Vereine (groups/organisations), some will be sports groups, working groups, the WI would definitely have a float if this was the UK and others are Fastnacht Vereine who get together purely to celebrate together Karneval time. Some of the masks in particular look pretty old and I’ve been told that it’s not uncommon for them to be passed down through families, passing on the mischief down the generations.
So the parade started promptly at 2pm, we could hear a fire engine siren and a brass band, it was cold but with the sun out (and plenty of clothes on), it just felt oh so normal.
And then came something new. I had done some research on Fastnacht in Baden-Württemberg and had discovered that masks play a pretty large part in any parade. Any parents out there, think twice before taking a child to a parade around here, I saw plenty of crying German kids scared by the masks, as a kid I don’t think I would have been keen and my sister would have had a meltdown. I haven’t mentioned yet that even now I hate masks, they scare me, not being able to see eyes and facial expressions makes me incredibly uncomfortable, but this is just a parade, it’s just watching the masks go by, no big deal at all.
As the parade snakes through the town, the audience get pelted with sweet and treats, if you go to a parade, take a bag to carry your booty home. I’d also recommend taking some of your own drinks, Germany I love the fact that you respect that I am an adult and can choose to drink beer in the street on a Sunday afternoon.
I bet you’re thinking what a fool I am to be nervous of a few masks, these wouldn’t even be remotely scary to a five year old. Just. you. wait.
See what I mean yet? So not only am I faced with a parade of anonymous mask wearing individuals, I now find out that they don’t only stay in the parade. They also dart amongst the crowd. OK, I can deal with audience participation, and then my poor attempt at costume is
stolen commandeered off my head by a scary witchy thing…
…such is life, and quickly i’m distracted as I’m the unfortunate recipient of a face paint stick to half my face, now I look like a blinkin’ smurf! MrC did not win prizes for laughing at me and I can admit that I lost my sense of humour for approximately 5 seconds until I realised that this was all part of the show.
I actually got off lightly, witches also enjoy stealing your shoelaces, this poor girl lost her shoelaces in a most undignified fashion. If you look closely you can even see the other stolen shoelaces sticking out of the witch on the rights bag. I saw plenty of people walking about missing a shoelace after the parade.
It’s worth saying that the ‘witches’ and anyone in a mask really whether they are wearing a skirt or not could be male or female underneath, cross dressing seems the least of anyones worries today. The witches also get up to more mischief stealing hair bobbles (both MrC and I fell pray to this), ties and scarves (but i doubt anyone wore a tie to the parade) and covering people in clouds of confetti.
It wasn’t all witches and mischief, there were also more bands, floats and a Parade princess or two.
So now you know as much as me about what to expect at a Fastnacht parade, well THIS Fastnacht parade anyway. I love the fact that Germany still continues to surprise me and it feels like a right of passage to experience things like this, I may be over 30 in real years but I’m only about 8 in German years so i’m playing catch up experience wise.
A gentle warning, if you don’t want to get manhandled, face painted or have confetti stuffed down your neck, you might want to stay away from a Fastnacht parade, though a Fashing parade in Franconia may be right up your street.