by Robb Rosas
As the year ends, so closes the festive season. Life tends to mirror the weather; it gets colder, emptier and drearier. All the family and friends have traveled back to their usual corners of the earth. The parties are nothing but a hung-over haze. The feasts and celebrations are hallow. Even the cheery season of Spring is too far away to bring any relief. There is a deafening void that consumes the land. This is definitely not the time to visit Europe. Flights and hotels are cheaper, but who really wants to come at this barren time of year?
I think because of this mood, the fifth season came about. Most people have heard of Mardi Gras or Carnival, but not everyone is familiar with Fasching. This is a German festival that precedes lent. It is thought to have Christian origination, but Fasching practices have been around since pagan times. It was a way of driving out the bad spirits before the planting time of spring. During periods of occupation, whether civil or religious; Fasching gave the people the opportunity “to let some steam off” and mock the authority.
Fasching is widely known and celebrated throughout Germany. However there are three cities that are notoriously known for their wild parties, Mainz, Düsseldorf and Köln, (Cologne). Köln is the more infamous of the three; the town literally shutdowns for the celebration. Many of the businesses are closed, while all the pubs and restaurants are booming. It has been said that in Köln, if you don’t participate in Fasching you should leave the city.
Fasching has spread in practice throughout Germany. It is observed in many rural local areas and is quite strong in the south of Germany. Heidelberg is not known as a Fasching city, but it has its own traditions and they do celebrate Fasching in style here as well.
The Fasching experience begins in kindergarten on dirty Thursday, (Schmutziger Donnerstag). This is before Fat Monday, (Rosenmontag), and Fat Tuesday, (Fastnachtsdienstag) . The kindergarten and school kids are encouraged to dress in costume. The costumes are usually from prince, princess or characters from traditional stories or television shows. Fasching for children is quite fun and lighthearted.
Fasching for school children is observed up to the fourth grade. Again the celebration is observed by light-hearted costumes and easy lessons. The older kids observe Fasching sporadically. The school doesn’t encourage it as much as they did for the youngsters. The kids take it upon themselves to observe Fasching. Most kids at that age are too cool to do it and don’t really participate in any activities.
Office and businesses don’t really observe Fasching outright. Some offices do allow their employees to go to parades though giving them half-day off.
Heidelberg is generally known as a tourist town; however as was pointed out above, there are not many tourists at this time of year. Fasching doesn’t really bring people to Heidelberg. Nevertheless Heidelberg does celebrate it in a big way… not just the city, but the little local towns around Heidelberg. The suburbs tend to throw some of the better parties.
The parties begin on Schmutziger Donnerstag, which is also known as Weiberfastnacht, (Women’s night out). On this day the women are given quite a bit of liberty. They are allowed to cut the tie off any man and allowed to kiss any man they desire. In former times, infidelity divorce cases incurred during Fasching were thrown out of court.
Many little towns sponsor a party to keep the situation a bit under control. These parties were free of charge, but as things got larger and more has been offered, most parties require a small entry fee and security is provided. Quite a few men go to these parties dressed as females of course. These are pretty wild costumed parties. There is quite a bit of singing, dancing and speeches in the local dialect.
On Friday nights the parties continue and are for everyone. Heidelberg is an old medical university town. One of the bigger parties is the Medizinerball (Medical Ball). Again in prior days this party would be held on campus and was free. It is quite a big bash where dancers from Brazil are shipped in and different bands play early into the morning. The atmosphere is very relaxed with a mix of costumes or scantily clad patrons. If you can’t have a good time there, then you can’t have a good time.
Saturday night is generally the night of the “Ball der Vampire”, (Dracula’s Ball). Over the years, this ball has been switching locales between Heidelberg and Mannheim. In Heidelberg, the Ball will is hosted in either the Heidelberg castle or the Stadthalle, (Town hall civic center). This ball is a bit sober… in some regards formal. I say formal because most of the attendees wear some form of black. This is also a costume ball, but folks tend to dress more gothic. This has always been a pricy event, but it certainly is worth a visit. There is quite a few good bands playing and in a hidden corner someplace in the event you can be sure to find a theater rendition of “Rocky Horror Picture Show”. This party is certainly a festival of the senses… particularly the eyes.
Sundays around Heidelberg is generally suburb parade day. Not all the suburbs have parades, but those that do, have a lot of fun because everybody knows each other and generally have a good laugh. It is good to go to the parade with somebody local. You’ll always get treats or drink from the parade walkers. These parades are quite different than what is experienced in the States. They do have marching bands and floats, but they tend to take one step further by interacting with their audiences. Many of the parade walkers are official registered clubs. The themes are very loose and involve some of the traditional wood-carved costumes.
Rosenmontag is generally quiet in Heidelberg. Most of the attention is given to the larger Fasching festivals from the big three cities.
Fastnachtsdienstag is Heidelberg’s parade day. The parade is about 2 kilometers long through the Hauptstrasse, (main street pedestrian zone). The floats are bigger as well as the give-aways. The float riders will throw candy, pretzels, plastic-toys and dispense drinks. It is quite an event and is meant to be fun for the whole family. Parade attendees generally dress-up in something silly or colorful. If attendees don’t have a costume they generally paint their faces.
Even thought this is a dreary time of year and the weather doesn’t always cooperate with the mood, everyone seems to have a good time during Fasching. My youngest brother and uncle would alternate their visits just so they can party in Fasching Heidelberg.