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Karneval, Fasching or Fastnacht?

What's the difference between 'Karneval', 'Fasching' und 'Fastnacht'?

And: do you call „Helau“ or rather “Alaaf”? How do you call the people celebrating it – are they “Narren” or “Jecken”?

In Germany there are many words related to the festival, which is also called "the fifth season (of the year)".

What is said where, and why is there a "fifth season"? Questions over questions! But here comes the answers.

People at Carnival in Germany

Are Karneval, Fasching and Fastnacht the same?

The reason for the different names is mainly geographical.

You celebrate

  • Karneval: in the Rhineland and large parts of northern Germany

  • Fasching: in parts of Bavaria, Saxony, Schleswig-Holstein, Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania and Austria

  • Fastnacht (or Fasnet, Fassenacht, ...): mainly in the southwest - in Hesse, Rhineland-Palatinate, Baden-Württemberg and Saarland, in parts of Upper Bavaria, western areas of Austria, South Tyrol, as well as for Luxembourg, Liechtenstein and Switzerland.

Narren and Jecken

There are also different names for the people wo are celebrating.

In the Rhineland, the "Jecken" roam the streets, in other regions it's the "Narren".

"Narrenzeit" is said everywhere as a synonym for the carnival season.

The most well-known calls of them include "Alaaf" and "Helau".

Again, regional differences determine what is called.

"Alaaf" is mainly heard in Cologne, the "capital of Karneval". There, the Jecken shout "Kölle Alaaf" during the parades, which means something like "Cologne about everything" or "All praise Cologne".

But you can also hear 'Alaaf' in other regions of the Rhineland.

In Dusseldorf, Koblenz or Mainz people call "Helau"

Even if Cologne and Düsseldorf are close together, you shouldn't confuse Helau and Alaaf - that's where the fun ends even at this time!

There are even more ‘ fools’ calls: "Narri-Narro" is heard during the Swabian-Alemannic Fastnacht.

In the Saarland they say “Alleh hopp. And in some regions there are even "Ahoi", "Alä", "Hex", "Meck", "Knolli", "Aloha" or "Wau-Wau" and other animal sounds.

It's just a crazy time!

Why do we celebrate Fasching, Karneval, und Fastnacht?

In ancient Rome and Egypt, there were already masked processions and festivities in honour of the gods Saturn or Isis, which were similar to the carnivals of the Middle Ages. Large public feasts were probably always an important part.

However, the carnival as we celebrate it today does not date from this time.

In Germany, carnival is more of a Catholic tradition. Ironically, Carnival came about because of the exact opposite, which is Lent.

Lent is the 40 days before Easter.

It begins on Ash Wednesday. At that time, fish, meat, dairy products and alcohol were strictly forbidden in the Middle Ages.

So it was important to use up these foods so they didn't go bad.

And ... if you eat well, why not make a party out of it! You wanted to let off steam again before the big renunciation began. This is probably how the first carnival customs came about, which have been carried over to the present day.

Krapfen an Karneval
Krapfen gehören zu Fasching und Karneval!

In southern Germany and Tyrol there is another origin. Here people wanted to drive away the evil winter spirits. Even today you can still find many carnival traditions here with spooky witch costumes, scary masks and lots of noise.

From when till when is Karneval?

Since the 19th century, the so-called carnival season has started in many regions, including the Rhineland, as early as November: on November 11th at 11.11. Clock.

Punctually to the minute, the "fifth season" is officially announced in many places.

The reason is: while today the Advent season is a celebration of cookies and people meet happily for "Christmas parties" with colleagues, Christianity used to have a forty-day fasting period before Christmas.

Der Jeck, der Narr – both lit.: fool

Die Narrenzeit: fool’s time

Even before this time there was a kind of Karneval or Fasching - and now these two periods have been combined into one long one.

However, the most important time in all regions is the Karneval, Fastnacht or Fasching week. This traditionally begins with the “Weiberfastnacht” (lit.: women's carnival) and ends on Ash Wednesday.

The highlight is “Rosenmontag” (Shrove Monday).

Die Termine von Karneval, Fasching oder Fastnacht 2022 im Überblick:

• February 24th: Weiberfastnacht in some regions called Altweiber, Weiberfasching or Schmotziger Donnerstag

• February 26th: Karnevalssamstag, also Schmalziger Samstag

• February 27th: Karnevalssonntag, also Tulpensonntag, Fastnachtssonntag oder Faschingssonntag

• February 28th: Rosenmontag

• March 1st: Karnevalsdienstag, also: Faschings-, Fastnachts- oder Veilchendienstag

• March 2nd: Aschermittwoch

Future dates of Rosenmontag (Shrove Monday)

In the years to come, Rosenmontag will take place on these days:

  • February 20th 2023

  • February 12th 2024

  • March 3rd 2025

  • February 16th 2026

  • February 8th 2027

  • February 28th 2028

  • February 12th 2029

  • March 4th 2030

  • February 24th 2031

  • February 9th 2032

What is ‚Weiberfastnacht?‘

‚Weib‘ is an old word for woman.

Women's carnival used to be the only day of the year when women were in charge. It was a crazy idea back then.

In many places, the women even stormed the town hall to symbolically take power.

Even today there are regions where the women celebrate this day without the men.

And in the office, it's better for men not to wear a tie on this day - it's traditional for them to be cut off!

An Weiberfastnacht werden die Krawatten abgeschnitten!
'Krawatte ab' an Weiberfastnacht ©CharLingua

Rosenmontag: the day of the carnival parades

Some cities are known for having particularly cheerful and intense celebrations.

In the days before Covid, at the height of the week-long celebrations, millions of people were out and about in the carnival strongholds every day. There are up to a million visitors every year for the Cologne Rose Monday procession alone.

In normal years, the other two German strongholds of Düsseldorf and Mainz are also bursting at the seams during Carnival and Fastnacht.

Large parades with several thousand visitors per day are also held in Aachen (Karneval), Rottweil (Fasnet), Nürnberg (Fasching), Köthen (Karneval), Bremen (Karneval), München (Fasching) und Berlin (Fasching)

These festival parades go back to the year 1397, when a Nuremberg carnival parade was first mentioned in writing. This makes Nuremberg the oldest carnival parade – and it still exists today!

Umzug am Rosenmontag

What is differnent this year?

In many cities there are severe restrictions due to the covid pandemic.

For example:

  • Cologne: ++++ Latest News ++++ The parade has been cancelled because of the war in Ukraine. Instead, there will be a demonstration for peace in the Rheinenergie-stadium.

  • Dusseldorf: the parade of Rosenmontag has been postponed to May.

  • Mainz: on Rosenmontag there will be no parade. However, the ideas for the Mainz motif floats can still be admired by the public. The motifs are shown as a construction fence gallery in a special exhibition in the "Lulu".


Now you know where in Germany you can celebrate Fasching, Karneval or Fastnacht - and which "carnival call" you should shout!

In any case, you should check the city or municipality's website for the exact rules beforehand.

I wish you a happy carnival season!


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