German Carnival – “Helau!”



 What is “Karneval / Fastnacht / Fasching”?

The colorful, fun, and crazy German Carnival (Narrenzeit = fool’s time) celebrated every year, seven weeks before Easter in February – it is also called the “Fifth Season”. In the cities of Köln (Cologne, with the largest and most famous  German Carnival) and Düsseldorf (north-western part of Germany) people say “Karneval”, in Mainz and Frankfurt (southern part) they say “Fastnacht” and in München (Munich, far south of Germany) it’s called “Fasching”.

The German Carnival originates in the traditions of the fasting period / Lent, when Catholic people don’t eat meat (Carne vale = lat. Goodbye meat) and don’t drink alcohol. So, before then people like to celebrate and eat everything they want one more time. Today, many people have moved away from this strict tradition, but some still continue.

The first day of Fastnacht starts on 11 November at 11:11 o’clock in the morning (meeting of the Fastnachts Council to organise the upcoming festivities), but the main events take place in the mid of February. People dress up in all kinds of funny, crazy or scary costumes, celebrate and do funny events in schools, clubs, costume balls, and on the street. Traditionally and especially during the Middle Ages, the scary costumes (mostly in the southern part of Germany) were used to scare away the winter. Nowadays, the German Carnival has become more of an entertainment event for children and adults.

The Fastnacht’s atmosphere begins on a Thursday, the Weiberfastnacht (“Women’s Carnival”) where women can kiss any man after cutting off his tie. On the holiday Rosenmontag there are big Fastnacht parades in most German cities (up to 6 or 7km in Köln, begins at 11:11 o’clock and can take up to more than 4 hours.

Köln_2003_Rosenmontag Karneval_Ko3

Every parade has a funny motto, many dance, carnival and music groups perform. People ride on big colorful floats decorated with huge caricatured figures of politicians and other famous personalities, throw candy, pretzels, and little toys to the audience while shouting: “Helau” (Mainz) or “Alaaf” (Köln, Düsseldorf), which can be seen as the Carneval way of saying “Hello” or “Hurray”.


The party continues one last time with many costume balls and parties on Faschingsdienstag (“Carnival Tuesday”). On Aschermittwoch (“Ash Wednesday”) everything is over and goes back to normal – after this the Lent period begins.


Follow these links to see and learn more about Karneval / Fastnacht / Fasching:


(short German video about the Carnival, includes text)


(Impressions of the 2013 Carnival celebrations in Germany)