Fasching, Fastnacht, Karneval – whatever it’s called in your region of Germany – is such a fun time of year. For me, as an American, it’s like Halloween and Mardi Gras all wrapped up into one. And although there are actually way more events that go along with Fasching than just the parade, it is probably the event most people are familiar with.
But a parade is a parade, right? In some ways, yes, but there are some things it can be helpful to know about before going to your first Fasching parade, as well as tips and tricks to enjoy it like a German.
Be Ready for a Few Culture Shocks
Okay, some of you might know this already, but one of the stereotypes Germans have of Americans is that we are all prudes. So, my first warning will most likely seem both silly and expected to my German readers. But for my American readers, just be forewarned that you might see nudity and sexually explicit elements on some of the floats.
I mean, it’s nothing really bad, and I haven’t seen the nudie pictures every year, so it’s kind of hit or miss. There are also usually a handful of dirty jokes written on the floats, but if you can’t read German, then no worries there.
The other culture shock which you might run into is all of the cigarette smoke. If you’ve already been in Germany for a while, then I’m sure you’ll have already experienced this somewhere. The parades are no different. You will most likely have people on all sides of you who are smoking, but the Germans don’t have that same stigma about cigarettes in crowds that we do in the States, so don’t expect anyone to move or put their cigarette out for you.
Expect to See US Politics Being Mocked
To be fair, they don’t just mock American politics. Fasching has traditionally been a time where nothing is off limits and people can poke fun at anything and anyone without fear of reprisal. However, Germans seem to like Democratic presidents better than Republican ones, and many of them really don’t like Mr. Trump, so you can bet money on just about every parade having at least one float that either pokes fun at Trump himself or one of his policies.
The floats in the smaller villages, especially the ones I’ve been to here in the Südeifel, are usually pretty tame. If you want to see some really extreme floats that push the limits when it comes to mocking politicians, just do an image search for Karneval + any politician’s name. But, like I said, that’s kind of the point of Fasching, and they always make fun of politicians (whether German or American, Democrat or Republican). It’s all in good fun.
Prepare to be Social
In different parts of Germany, there are different “greetings” for Fasching. In this area, it’s Helau (which sounds like “Hello” but with an “ow” on the end – like the sound in “ouch”). As the various floats make their way down the street, they will be flanked by people in costume who hand out different things – candy, bottles of liquor, etc. – and they will greet the crowds with “Helau!” The people in the crowds will respond the same.
If you want to make sure that these people notice you and offer to fill your glass with whatever alcohol they’re carrying, join in on the greetings. It has been my experience that when you don’t respond to the “Helau” call, you typically get passed over. Not always, but often.
Brace for the Schlager
Some of you know exactly what I’m talking about, and some of you will have absolutely no idea. There is a very unique genre of music in Germany called Schlager. Now, within Schlager are a number of variations, but Schlager, in general, is one of those things that people either love or hate. There isn’t usually a middle ground.
A handful of floats in the parade will not play music, but the vast majority of them will. And the music they’re playing is called Party Schlager. Here’s a couple of examples:
These are newer songs. You might also hear some of the more classic ones like this:
You’ll also notice that, when the floats come by blasting this music, most of the people in the crowd will know the words and be singing along. What are they singing about? Well, it’s a mix of things, but most of the songs are usually about drinking, going to Mallorca (the Germans LOVE Mallorca), enjoying the moment, or sometimes silly songs about sex.
They’re all happy songs, though, that put everybody in a good mood.
A Few General Tips For First-Timers
- Get there at least 10 minutes early – if not sooner. People will start lining up early to get good spots, and if you want to drink, it’s best that you snag a place where you’re right on the street.
- Feel free to wear a costume! Lots of people will be dressed up, and the costumes will absolutely run the gamut. I’ve seen cowboys, Indians, unicorns, the Mad Hatter, Darth Vader, and one time, I even saw Cheese Heads (you know, Green Bay Packers fans).
- If you have kids, you might want to bring a little bag to collect candy and snacks in.
- If you plan on drinking, expect to get all kinds of different alcohols. Some people will hand out little bottles of Schnaps, but others will have bottles and pour you drinks. You never know what these are until you drink them. It might be wine, champagne, or a mixture of things. Some are wonderful, some are watered down. It’s always a surprise!
- There will be a lot of drinking and a lot of cigarette smoking, so just know that in advance.
- There will also be an outrageous amount of trash. Most people leave their cups, bottles, and candy wrappers on the ground. I hate to encourage anyone to do that because it just feels so wrong, but I’ve never seen any trash cans set up anywhere, so…
- There is always a party after the parade that will go through the night. Just follow the floats and/or the crowd after the parade is over because everyone will be heading to the party. Usually, these are inside the local community center. They will have music – sometimes live music – more drinking and sometimes even food.
- Don’t think that you have to go to a big city for a good parade. Some of the best parades are in the smaller villages.
And just to get you into the mood, here’s a look back at some of the local Fasching parades from the last two years.
Did I leave anything out? Let me know in the comments below!