A guest post by Adam Keyes of Munich’s Karneval Universe
In early November cities and towns all across Germany erupted into color and celebration for the beginning of the Carnival season, or the “Fifth Season” (die Fünfte Jahreszeit) as it is also known, and Munich was no different.
Fasching, as Carnival or Mardi Gras is known in Munich, traditionally begins at 11:11 a.m. on the 11th day of the 11th month, as it is at this time that the “Council of Eleven” (Narrhalla) gathers to plan the events of the forthcoming celebrations that will occur across the city. The Council of Eleven, who all wear comedy jester and fools hats during the celebrations, are joined by the Carnival Prince and Princess in the planning processes. This year’s Carnival Prince and Princess are Alexander II and Lisa I, who arrived at Munich’s Viktualienmarkt (“food market” square) in a vintage car to be presented to their “foolish nation.” From this point until March 4, 2014 the Carnival Prince and Princess reign over all proceedings.
The German term Fasching originates from the medieval word vaschnc and relates to the fasting period of Lent (die Fastenzeit), which commences right after the Carnival season. Fasching has its origins in the dancing, revelry and pageantry that allowed everyone to let off steam before giving up things for Lent. Despite the evolving changes in customs, manners, the economy and celebrations, the Fasching tradition has lasted to this day.
The Carnival season may be announced in November, but the party does not really get started until much later. The 2014 Carnival season officially commences on January 7 in Munich. Traditionally Munich’s Fasching begins with more than 800 balls, many of which are fancy-dress affairs and attract thousands. But there are also several gala balls that are strictly black-tie events, with those in attendance dressed in their finest garb, with perhaps the best-known of these being the Schwarz-Weiß-Bälle, the “Black-and-White Balls.” If you find yourself in Munich at this time, we recommend that you visit one of the traditional ballrooms in the Bayerischer Hof Hotel or take a trip to the Funkbälle (Radio Balls) within the rooms of the Bavarian broadcasting station (BR, Bayrischer Rundfunk).
As Fasching in Munich progresses, the balls and galas make way for parades and other public activities. On February 3, 2014 the “Crazy Knights” (Damische Ritter) will descend upon the city and march from Sonnenstraße (“Sun Street”) to the famous Hofbräuhaus beer hall. The party gets even more intense on Carnival Sunday. Over the three days from Carnival Sunday to Shrove Tuesday (aka Mardi Gras), Munich becomes an open-air party zone filled with locals and visitors decked out in fancy dress and carnival costume, with the city dancing to the live music pumped out throughout the streets. It is on Shrove Tuesday, or Fasching Dienstag in German, that the Munich Carnival season hits its peak. The Marienplatz and Viktualienmarkt are swamped with Carnival-goers for the annual “Dance of the Market Women” (Marktfrauentanz) which then takes center stage. Fasching ends promptly at midnight on Shrove Tuesday, to much solemnity as the Carnival season is put to rest for another year. But there is one big final act on Ash Wednesday (Aschermittwoch). Traditionally on this day Münchner make their way to the Marienplatz, Munich’s central square, and the Fish Fountain there to wash out their purses and wallets to ensure that they will not be empty for at least another year.
If you plan on heading out to Munich’s Fasching, so that you’re all set, why not treat yourself to a costume or mask from the Karneval Universe for the occasion and immerse yourself in one of the many festivities and street parties occurring all over the Bavarian capital. Then you can truly join in the traditional Fasching shout: “Helau!” — roughly translated as “Hurrah!”
– Adam Keyes (Karneval Universe)
Also see this German Way article: Fasching and Karneval