OK, this isn't a trip report, but a recommendation. If you're in Germany over the next two weeks or so, and you want a peak at a particular bit of German culture that will defy most of your preconceptions... check out the live broadcasts of the city Karneval dinner shows on ZDF (one of the main public TV channels in Germany). There's no way I can really describe these, other than to mention costumes, marching bands, dancing groups, comedy, lots of drinking and general silliness. Even if you can't understand a word of German, it's worth at least a quick look for the visuals alone.
Karneval - or Fasching down here (or Fasnet west of here) is such a weird thing. The Germans get very excited about it. I would note in addition if you're in the Western or SouthWestern part of the country nearly every town has a parade or festival, some of them go on for a few days. It's a little insane. Makes me feel like spring is right around the corner...
I don't get the whole thing either. It always seems like such forced fun. The kids like it a lot though and the adults enjoy the drinking and the roasts on TV. Belonging to a Karneval Club seems to be a lifelong commitment and runs in families. Either your whole family participates in this, or not at all. Anyway, enjoy the fun if you are in any of the towns where there are parades. If in Frankfurt, shout "Helau" at the people on the floats. If in Cologne, shout "Alaaaf". Fasching and Fastnacht parades going on this weekend:
Frankfurt on Sunday at 13:11 Aschaffenburg on Sunday at 14:00 Wiesbaden on Sunday at 13:11 Mainz on Rose Monday at 11:11 Seligenstadt on Rose Monday at 14:11 Heddernheim, Klaa Paris, on Tuesday at 14:31
Sarah hit the nail on the head when she said it makes her think spring is around the corner. That's been the idea for a few thousand years. What you have is the latest incorporation of ancient practices. Could you shoot us some reports on what you saw and did this year, Tom, Jo, Sarah. I'd love to see it some day.
By the way, there are serious academic studies of the German carnival and its history and significance.
My experience this year was pretty much limited to watching the show from Köln and Düsseldorf. I went to a Fasching party at a bar in Garmisch last year, but the less said about that the better.
Once upon a time when there were video tapes – remember them? there was a place that rented German language tapes – lots of folk music, travel shows, German TV series, etc. I got one about something called "Fasnet" in a place called Bad Waldsee. I couldn't believe it and said – I'm going there to see it first hand.
Unlike the Rhineland, in this part of southern Baden-Wurttemberg, the traditions go back a long ways – like to pre-Christian times – with "witches" dancing a midnight and costumed people covered in pine boughs. Over the years we've gone back six – seven times. I don't speak much German, but we have always been made to feel welcome and lots of people are amazed Americans would come to their town to experience this very local tradition. We been to Cologne and Mainz, and while bigger and lots more people, I'll take the small towns any day. From a hotel room on the main square facing the street, the action is nonstop (sometimes those bass drums at 3 am are a bit much!) but it's a memory I will never forget.
I watched the parade in downtown Frankfurt for a while, took some photos at the Römer of folks in costume, and called it a day. This is just not my idea of a fun time. Have been to Cologne for Fasching and didn't like that experience at all. It isn't enjoyable to me when drinking to excess and more, becomes the main activity. When the kids were little it was kind of fun, cause they are all excited about the candy, but now? It just doesn't do it for me. Would rather go to a dozen other things instead. The political floats are funny though, but then you have to know what is going on in Germany and who the people are they are making fun of.