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The run-up to Carnival or “Fasching” Season begins in November: on the 11th day of the 11th month at 11:11 precisely. In the areas in which the carnival is celebrated mostly in the Rhein region, a carnival committee consisting of eleven members known as the “Elferrate” are chosen and a carnival prince and princess are crowned. It all starts properly in February in the week before the Christian fasting season of Lent. Before fasting begins people tend to go wild at masquerade and costume balls with music, and merry feasting. People call out the festival calls of “Helau” or “Alaaf”. Most of these customs originate from pagan times or from Germanic fertility rituals. The actual festival of “Festnacht” is on the night before Ash Wednesday.

RottweilIn Germany there are clear differences between the “Fasnacht” celebrated by those in the Swabian and Allemannic regions of South-West Germany and the carnival in the Rhein region. The Swabian-Allemanic “Fastnacht” has its centres in the areas around Rottweil, the Black Forest and Basel. A typical custom which has been handed down here is the wearing of wooden masks which are intended to drive away evil spirits.

In the Rhein region people speak of “Karneval” (Carnival). The word ‘carnival’ comes from the Italian (Carnevale in Florence, Rome and Venice) and means saying farewell to meat (“Carne” in Italian). The Rhein Carnival has its centres in Cologne, Düsseldorf and Mainz. On “Rosenmontag”, the last day of the carnival, many costumed revellers take to the streets with decorated floats and throw sweets, chocolate, flowers and little presents into the crowd. Current events and prominent political figures are satirised on the floats with mock speeches. The high spirits seem to permeate everywhere! The Fasching carnival is also popular in the East of Germany, such as in Cottbus (in the State of Brandenburg) and in the area of Oberlausitz (In Saxony) and in Thuringia. The festival ends at midnight on the Wednesday, marking Ash Wednesday and the beginning of the long period of fasting before Easter.