Fasnacht! Carnival! Crazy times!

by Sirje

Last night we attended a little early Fasnacht at the Baden-Württemberg Embassy here in Berlin. I’d never been to any Fasnacht celebrations, so this was a nice little taste of the madness that officially starts in a few weeks in southern Germany and nearby parts of Switzerland & Alsace.

You have to know a couple things in order to fully enjoy a good Fasnacht celebration as the pagans intended it.

The first thing you have to know is that the more ridiculous, the better. Groups of witches and demons and things participate in a rigorous ridiculousness training regime in the months prior to carnival, during which time they presumably meditate upon creepy little puppets for inspiration.

They wear elaborate and very, very particular handmade costumes – each represents a specific village or area, and every detail has to be exactly right.

Naturally, the witches and demons and so on need to be properly introduced to the revelers. This is accomplished by an official-looking personage or two (such as the cheerful gent above, in mustard) joyously barking out a bit of information about where each group is from, in an accent I couldn’t decipher if my life depended on it.

Fortunately, everything said is punctuated with much gravity and at great volume and silliness by a large brass band. This way, despite accents, foreign people know when to clap.

The costumes vary. You’ve got your standard witches, demons and ogres, but then you also see mop people covered head to toe in straw, frightening handymen, spooky old farmers, insane cats, giant rodents, etc.

It’s definitely a collection of scary things from a different time; I didn’t see anyone dressed up like a computer virus or a tax return.

The witches and demons serve a specific purpose: to chase winter away. This is done, as far as I can tell, by 1) using actual brooms to sweep winter away from around the feet of all the people there and b) just acting totally stupid. The sillier the better, truly.

They’re also pretty big on giving candy to any kids in attendance, with many creepy flourishes. They will literally run up to little kids, bells jingling, big google eyes, scary costumes, arms and legs and brooms all flying everywhere, yelling and cackling! and then stop short an inch from a kid’s face… and gently hold out a piece of delicious chocolate.

Poor, poor German children.

There was one pretty good witch act. These particular witches, below, accomplished their winter-chasing tasks by dancing outrageously to a very entertaining 20 minute medley of Foreigner and Michael Jackson, stacking themselves in impossible human pyramids 5, 6, 7 people high, tossing and spinning each other through the air in truly head-crackingly insane fashion, and repeatedly showing us their matching underpants while standing upside down on their heads.

If I were winter, I’d definitely be pretty scared. Here they are doing the can-can. Please allow me to draw your attention to the gentleman on the left:

After the entertainments, you’re expected to gorge yourself on jelly donuts.

I’m not really sure how eating jelly donuts for dinner convinces winter to leave, but I’m sure that with time and repeated practice, I will come to understand this very important aspect of Fasnacht.

So you sit at these long tables and eat your jelly donuts and drink bottles of wine, and generally make merriment to your heart’s content, and in the process you’re contributing to the arrival of spring. It’s win-win for all concerned.

(And then we dance.)