If you have never been to Germany, it’s way past time. You need to fix that. But don’t just go any old time of the year. Germany starts springing to life beginning 40 days prior to Easter when their annual Fasching season, also known as Karneval, kicks off quietly before eventually erupting into the biggest, wildest, and most chaotic party on the planet. It’s like Mardi Gras on steroids. Parades, dances, festivals and costumed balls take place all over the country. These aren’t your run-of-the-mill small town Fall Festivals by any means. They are no-holds-barred, liquor chugging, often times out-of-control, in a fun way, parties. There is merrymaking in the streets. Inhibitions loosen, or in lots of cases totally come undone.
In Essence, no matter the origin, which is long and complex and most people don’t give a Schnitzel about it anyway, it’s the last chance to party like it’s 1999 before Ash Wednesday when it all comes to a screeching halt. Ash Wednesday signifies the beginning of Lent and a time for the repentance of sins. It all makes perfect sense to get ’em in while you can.
If you visit Germany solely for the purposes of partying like the rock star, whatever you do, plan on at least staying through Rosenmontag, or, Rose Monday, and maybe factor in a day or so for recovery. You’re going to need it. It’s the final countdown. Lent’s lifting the door knocker but giving everybody one last chance to get it all out of their systems. Almost every city in Deutschland hosts a parade, but especially in the major cities, it’s an all-out ruckus. I reiterate, in a fun way.
My first Rose Monday Fasching parade found me on the sidewalk with a plastic bottle of no-label wine in my mouth as I was being forcefully shuffled along by throngs of party animals who had apparently gotten a much earlier start than I had. It was 10:00 a.m. The more the parade goers drank the more they randomly started screaming “HELLO” at one another, usually followed up by a big giant hug and an occasional unexpected smack on the lips from a total stranger. It was all a bit overwhelming at first, but at the same time, since I knew I couldn’t beat them, I opted to pop a breath mint, pucker up, and join the fun. My cheap generic white wine breakfast made it kind of easy to get into the swing of things.
My initial indoctrination, or perhaps initiation is better, to a Fasching ball, is indelibly etched in my minds archives. It was a kaleidoscope of colorful costumes beyond anything I could have imagined. It was almost magical. Some of the costumes were quite elaborate. The ball was held in a huge two-story hall with balconies and side rooms, and the place was packed. No place in the building was off-limits. Everyone was completely covered from head to toe rendering them unidentifiable, so nobody knew who anybody was. This is the intent. It was every man and woman for themselves as an odd mixture of Oompa and funky dance tunes were blasted over the crowd. Alcohol of every sort was downed in unfathomable proportions beyond what should be humanly possible. Then I remembered. These are Germans. I didn’t try to keep up. The entire night was a blast. At the end of the night, there was a row of taxis as far as the eye could see waiting outside. So was the Polizei in case anyone got stupid.
If you’re going to go, Dusseldorf should be high on your list of considerations. There are other big celebrations elsewhere, but it’s rated as one of the best in Germany. Here’s a little bit about what happens there.
Fasching Season in Dusseldorf
Dusseldorf borders on insanity. A rival of their neighboring city Cologne, there’s a friendly battle to see who can outdo who with over-the-top celebrating. There has yet to be a clear-cut winner though they both claim the trophy.
On November 11, the fool is awakened. He then orates what is known as the Jokers Scolding in the town square just before it turns into a huge bar and the drinking begins. Though there are over 300 costume balls held between this date and Lent, the more consistent and crazier fun doesn’t begin until Lent draws closer.
In the latter part of February (the date changes annually), Altweiberfastnacht takes place. This is a day for the ladies. The women of town storm city hall and take it over, but only after capturing the Lord Mayor who can only be released after his bounty of a large bottle of wine is paid. He also has to dance and sing with the women. They cut the ties off of men who wear the cheapest one they can find on this day and then they take over the weekend marketplace at Karlsplatz before disappearing into the local pubs to drink until the sun comes up. This signifies the actual beginning of serious party time.
The day before Rose Monday is Carnival Sunday. Families, friends, social groups, clubs of any type, all show up with a keg of beer in a baby stroller or any other type of witty creative device on wheels they can conjure up. As one would expect, everyone is decked out in costume. The atmosphere is way beyond festive and you can’t help but get sucked right into the entire affair by just being there. There is singing, dancing, and lots and lots of kissing. Carry some Binaca.
Over one million people crowd onto the sidewalks of Dusseldorf for the cities legendary Rose Monday Parade. Confetti and streamers hamper visibility as parade goers are bombarded with hard candy being hurled at them from the seemingly endless line of floats. Of course, many of the parades watchers are weaving back and forth and it’s harder to hit a moving target. So far no one has lost an eye from an out-of-control jawbreaker. I guess.
Whether you’re a self-proclaimed party animal or just interested in seeing this spectacle for yourself, you can’t go wrong in Dusseldorf.