A Guide to Understanding and Celebrating Mainzer Fastnacht
If you’ve been in Germany for some time, you will know what Fastnacht is. But if you’ve just moved here recently, you’re probably wondering:
What exactly is Fastnacht and why are people so excited about it?
Fastnacht is Germany’s carnival season
For some Närrinnen und Narren it is the fifth season of the year. Because we are in Mainz, we call it Fastnacht or Fassenacht but there are many different names for it, depending on where you are in Germany. The area around Cologne calls it Karneval, others call it Fasching. This map should help you figure out, what to call it where, because yes, true Fastnacht fans will be offended if you call it the wrong name in the wrong region.
Fastnacht is more or less a Catholic celebration and most Protestant areas of Germany do not celebrate it or not as much. It officially starts on the 11th day of November, exactly 11 minutes after 11am and ends at the stroke of midnight on the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday. The biggest celebrations are held the week before Ash Wednesday as a last chance to drink, party and have fun before lent starts.
It all begins with Weiberfastnacht on the Thursday before Ash-Wednesday
At 10am in the morning, the Fastnachtstreiben (everything going-on during Fastnacht) starts in Mainz at the famous Carnival Fountain (Schillerplatz) with a big show, music and hundreds of people, young and old, in colourful costumes. Weiber is an old word for women in German (nowadays considered offensive) and on Weiberfastnacht women take over control of all the festivities. They storm into and symbolically take over city hall. Throughout the day, they will snip off men's ties (So men, be sure to wear your oldest or ugliest one) and afterwards kiss any man that passes their way. People go out to parties and bars, dressed up in costumes.
The following weekend is generally known as a weekend to live it up. People will celebrate at various carnival community events and also individual parties (always dressed in costume of course).
However, the highlight of all the Fastnacht celebrations is the parade on Monday called Rosenmontagsumzug (Shrove Monday parade)
It is the largest and most popular of all parades and throughout Germany, Mainz is known for its big festivities on Rosenmontag. So if you see TV cameras around, smile and wave - the parade is broadcasted live on national TV. Although Shrove Monday isn’t an official holiday, the entire city will come to a halt and most of the stores will be closed (including the Studierendenwerk Mainz and cafeterias on campus). The parade starts early in the morning (around 9am) and will run through most of the city center, so there are plenty spots where you can stand and watch. It consists of floats (satirical remarks on politics), Schwellköpp (huge papier mâché heads) and people, who will throw candy, alcohol and other gimmicks. Again, everybody is dressed up in crazy costumes, even if it’s freezing outside. Carnival music or sounds of marching bands fill the air and people just generally go crazy and yell things like “Helau” (the specific carnival cry for the Mainz region, in Cologne you yell “Alaaf”). The busiest place to see the parade (and also party afterwards) is the Ludwigsstraße close to the Schillerplatz. Here, after the parade, you can find different stages for live music; there are radio moderators and DJs that provide the party atmosphere and multiple party tents where you can celebrate inside and warm up. This Tanz auf der Lu (dancing at the Lu) is legendary. The party continues until late at night, also shifting to clubs and bars that have Fastnacht themed parties going on.
Shrove Tuesday is the last day of the fifth season
Many people go out one more time to say goodbye to Fastnacht appropriately. There are several parties and even parades going on in different parts of Mainz and people celebrate one last time before it ends at the stroke of midnight and Ash-Wednesday begins.
If you think Fastnacht sounds fun
and you want to experience this German tradition while you’re here, but you have no idea what to do on each day, take a look at this event calendar for all the parades, this map for the route of the Rosenmontagsumzug and this one for parties in the city. You can also check if your favorite bars and clubs offer Fastnacht-themed parties during that time. If you are looking for parties on campus, you can check the Campus Mainz event calendar here.
Now that you’re informed on what Fastnacht is and where you can celebrate it, you should hurry and figure out what your costume is going to be, so you can join in on all the Fastnachts fun. Helau!