Looking around, I have difficulty processing exactly what I’m seeing. To the left of me, milling around in a crowd, are what appear to be a large group of pandas. While one lights a cigarette, another expertly opens a bottle of beer with a disposable lighter. On the right, standing quietly, is a clone trooper, at least that’s what the mask looks like. Across the street, a native American is hugging the ‘Karate Kid’ and pointing at the group of ninja turtles doing shots at a makeshift bar. While all this is happening, witches parade passed us, dividing their time between scaring small children, throwing sweets to the crowd and kidnapping women to be put in a cage that is being towed behind them. For a moment I wonder if I’ve taken a wrong turn into The Wickerman. I stamp my feet in the hopes of dispelling this thought and simultaneously kick starting the circulation. Despite various warnings, I hadn’t worn my warmest clothes. I had also politely declined the loan of a cowboy costume, replete with holster and six gun. I might not be warm, but what I’m seeing helps distract me well enough. I may not fully understand it, but I am now very aware that carnival is serious business.
Last week I discussed the fears of losing my tie at the hands of crazed, business attire hating women during Weiberfestnacht. I needn’t have worried. I managed to avoid the majority of the madness and returned home with my tie fully intact. Despite this lapse in Carnival madness, Fasching has arrived. Although I’m not there to see it, I have been reliably informed that my girlfriends siblings have chosen to mix Superman with a pack of gorillas. The OCD part of my brain would like to state that Superman didn’t generally hang out with gorillas, but what I would gain in geek street cred, I would lose by being a humourless robot. Then again, that might make a decent costume. As it is, Fasching doesn’t require you to have the perfect costume or the most original. All that is required is that you have fun, drink beer and if possible, avoid being put in a cage.
The origin of Fasching is, like many similar celebrations, is hard to pin down. Some see it as a way for their ancestors to welcome the return of spring, brooms being a common sight, sweeping away the winter. Other theories abound that it was a chance for people to let their hair down before the solemnity of Easter. Others still might claim it to be based around the medieval concept turning things around, with fools becoming leaders of the community for one day a year. Whatever the origin, Fasching today is a chance for friends to come together, have fun and possibly dress up in a ridiculous costume.
Although generally celebrated in the Catholic regions, Fasching is open to all. Celebrated earlier in cities such as Köln (11th November), the main time for festivities is the weekend before Ash Wednesday. The events held range from televised Fasching parties with comedians, dancers and celebrities to smaller village events for children. Despite the varied range of events, some elements always remain the same. There is usually a parade of some type, where the historic Fasching clubs take to the streets in costumes that have been handed down from older relatives. In some regions, the traditional wooden masks worn by those dressed as witches, can be centuries old. Through the course of the parade, the groups will distribute sweets or simply “steal” people and cause as much mischief as possible.
Much like other more global holidays, such as Christmas or Easter, the build up to Fasching can be seen from early January. Shops will begin to display costumes and masks, special Fasching sweets are made available and the small bottles of alcohol that can be seen littering all Fasching parade routes suddenly appears on shelves. Although it may not be universally popular, it’s hard to ignore the arrival of this annual event.
Oddly enough, while Halloween is eyed with suspicion by many here in Germany, Fasching, a relatively similar custom, is not. I’ve found far more supporters than I have detractors, but like anything, there are those who like it and those who don’t. I don’t have any particular fondness for Fasching, but neither does it annoy me. I just haven’t grown up with it and as such, I don’t find it all that interesting. In saying that, I will always have a fondness for any cultures event if it involves drinking and dressing up like a storm trooper. How could you not? Eventually I will have to get involved, instead of being a passive bystander. That being said, I might not have the opportunity to witness the scene I described in the first paragraph, given the requirement to drink so much. Also, I’ve always promised myself not to pass out while looking like a cartoon character, it’s just depressing.