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Fastnacht, Funkenmariechen and the thing with the 11: what is carnival all about?


Some fear it, the fools long for it: the great days begin in the Rhenish carnival strongholds. Many ask themselves: What is the purpose of the chaos? We sort for you.

Enlarge image

Carnivalists in front of the cathedral in Cologne

Photo: Maja Hitij/ dpa

The fifth season of the year is approaching its climax: February 20, 2023 is Shrove Monday and a highlight of the year is imminent in the carnival strongholds and carnival fortresses.

The city of Cologne is not only looking forward to the first Rose Monday procession since the beginning of the corona pandemic, but is also celebrating the 200th anniversary of its carnival.

It doesn't matter whether it's carnival on the Rhine or carnival in Bavaria: those who like to dress up know what a wild party awaits them.

But if you don't know what to do with all of this, you'll quickly ask yourself: what's all the hustle and bustle about and what's actually being celebrated?

Here are the most important answers to have a say.

AreaCarnival, Mardi Gras, Shrovetide - what now?open

The extravagant hustle and bustle is called differently in different regions: In the Rhineland the custom is called Carnival, in Mainz and the surrounding area Fastnacht, in the Swabian-Alemannic area Fasnet and in the Bavarian-Austrian area Fasching.

The word "Fastnacht" has been known since the 12th century and already refers to the content onomatopoeic: the 

evening before the start of the 40-day Christian Lent,

 which ends at Easter.

Before this phase of deprivation, people come together happily to feast, dance and celebrate again.

At first it really only meant the night before, later this phase was increasingly extended to a longer period of time.

The term "Fasching" has a similar meaning.

It is derived from the Middle High German " vaschanc

", which has been documented since the 13th century, especially in southern Germany, and probably 

 means serving the fasting drink.

Carnival is borrowed from the Italian 


 which may be derived from the Middle Latin "carnelevale" and  means something like "taking


away"  . The derivation "meat, farewell!" from "Carne vale!" probably belongs in the realm of fools.

Carnivalists on Shrove Monday 2016 in Düsseldorf

Photo: Maja Hitij/ dpa

AreaWhat are you actually celebrating?open

Whichever way you look at it, you keep coming back to the 

beginning of Christian Lent before Easter


Be left out again before the quiet time of penance and abstinence sets in!

With dancing, games and parades, the recognized order is overridden and mocked in disguise and jesters' garb.

This is particularly evident today in the Rhenish carnival with the "counter-government" of the Elferrat or the storming of the town hall on Weiberfastnacht.

Since the 19th century, the so-called session has traditionally opened on 

November 11, usually at 11:11 a.m.

 In Düsseldorf, the Hoppeditz is awakened.

The fact that Martin's Day of all things marks the beginning is probably mainly due to the fool's number eleven.

After the rather quiet Advent and Christmas season, the organized carnival only really picks up speed in the festival tents and halls from January 6th (Epiphany).

Finally, on Weiberfastnacht, the carnival takes over the streets.

The session ended after six days of street carnival on Ash Wednesday. 

There is no evidence that the customs have pagan, Germanic, Celtic or Roman origins such as spring or fertility festivals.

Evidence of the carnival celebrations can be found in the High and Late Middle Ages.

Since the 13th and 14th centuries, banquets, drinking bouts, equestrian games and dance games have been part of the regionally different customs of the 

"fifth season"


Around 1500, the figure of the fool gained importance for the authorities with his pranks and mockery, which were initially understood to be devilish.


central carnival element

 of temporary anarchy and outspoken criticism of those in power developed particularly after the French Revolution.

In the 19th century, the bourgeoisie brought the carnival, which was excessively celebrated by the lower classes, into a fixed order.

Newly formed carnival societies introduced parades, meetings, and staff like the prince, which continue to shape the face of carnival to this day.

The time of the Reformation had previously caused a kind of 

dichotomy in Germany


The custom is still more firmly anchored in the predominantly Catholic regions than in the Protestant ones, where fasting has lost its importance.

SectionWomen's Carnival - a day just for women?open

Everything is allowed in the carnival and old 

conventions lose their validity.

 The tradition, according to which women symbolically assume power on the Thursday before Shrove Monday, is said to go back to the Middle Ages.

It has only been common since 1945 for women to take away men's hats or caps or even 

cut off their ties on this day,

 thereby reducing male dominance.

Carnivalists celebrate women's carnival in Düsseldorf

Photo: Roland Weihrauch/ dpa

Weiberfastnacht or Altweiberfastnacht

has been the prelude to the six-day street carnival since the 19th century  .

 In Cologne, for example, the street carnival is heralded at 11:11 am by the triumvirate and the mayor in the old town.

Today’s women’s carnival in the Rhineland is said to go back to washerwomen from Bonn-Beuel.

It went against the grain that carnival was an all-male event.

And so, in 1824, they formed their own Ladies' Committee.

Almost 200 years later, one would think that all that is passé.

But in many clubs - including the traditional Cologne corps - women cannot become members at all, at most as Tanzmariechen or in the equestrian corps.

Nevertheless, women are not like that, men are also allowed to celebrate Weiberfastnacht.

Open areaAre roses thrown on Shrove Monday?

Shrove Monday is the 

highlight of the street carnival in many places.

 In Cologne, Düsseldorf and Mainz there is hardly a way around the carnival.

The big Shrove Monday parades (carnival parades) take place.

The inner-city transport system is practically paralysed.

In many offices people don't work, in some they celebrate.

Among the bouquets of flowers (Strüßjer) thrown by the train participants are certainly roses.

But they did not give the day its name.

Where the name comes from is not entirely clear.

 Some people trace it back to Rose Sunday.

Four weeks after Carnival, fasting was broken on this one Sunday.

Rose Sunday got its name either because the pope is said to have consecrated a golden rose on this day or because priests wore pink robes there.

Rose Sunday is said to have served the Cologne festival committee as the day of the general assembly in the 19th century.

The committee was formed to organize the carnival activities.

Around 1830, parts of the name were transferred to the annual procession on the Monday before Ash Wednesday. 

Others attempt a 

linguistic derivation.

 In the Lower Rhine, the word 

"rosen" means to race or romp.

 A proverbial great Monday.

At first, only the people of Cologne spoke of Shrove Monday, and only later did Düsseldorf and Mainz also adopt the name.

Expand areaWhat happens on Ash Wednesday?

As the saying goes in the carnival classic by Jupp Schmitz: 

"Everything is over on Ash Wednesday".

 and thats the way it is.

Ash Wednesday marks the end of the mad activity.

The people of Cologne herald the conclusion of the carnival on the night from Tuesday to Ash Wednesday.

And the people of Düsseldorf also bury their model fool, Hoppeditz, on Ash Wednesday. 

Ash Wednesday also marks the 

beginning of Lent before Easter.

 For 40 days (excluding Sundays) the faithful abstain from meat, alcohol or sweets.

In the early Middle Ages, church penance also began, in which the penitents were sprinkled with ashes, among other things.

This gave rise to the tradition in the Catholic Church of drawing a cross made of ashes on the forehead of those who go to the altar on Ash Wednesday.

It should remind them of impermanence. 

In addition to fools and believers, the parties in Germany also celebrate Ash Wednesday.


tradition of political Ash Wednesday

 - a kind of reckoning with political opponents - goes back to the CSU.

AreaThe organized carnival - what's that about the uniforms and these sessions?open up

In the first half of the 19th century, organized carnivals emerged in many places in the Rhineland.

The bourgeoisie wanted to 


the often coarse and extravagant celebrations  and founded carnival clubs.

This was also due to the Prussian occupation, which had to be met with a little more discipline and order, but whose militarism could be made fun of at the same time.

In 1823, the people of Cologne founded the "Festordnungde Comité" and thus shaped the face of the official carnival to this day. 

At the 

first Shrove

 Monday parade, the Red Sparks, whose uniform goes back to the former Cologne city soldiers, accompanied the entry of the "Heroes' Carnival" as a guard.

He later became the "Prince Carnival".

The Prussians made fun of Funken with the Stippeföttche dance (two gentlemen rubbing their bottoms together), which is still practiced today.

The prince was later joined by the peasant and the maiden: the Cologne triumvirate was born.

Traditionally, the virgin is portrayed by a man - like Funkenmariechen originally, who became female during the Nazi era. 

The other places in the Rhineland are also ruled by royal couples or princes with court. 

In Cologne alone

there are now 

more than 100 carnival societies,

 including the uniformed corps societies.

The clubs not only provide the carnival staff and organize the parades, but also hold meetings.

These take place in the session and at the high point of the carnival and combine performances by the garden and dance groups, carnival bands and craft speakers.

The latter rhyme from a kind of barrel - the Bütt - in dialect, sometimes more and sometimes less funny about political and social issues.



 presides over a meeting, hands out Bützjen and medals or, after particularly thrilling performances, calls on the audience to "rocket" ("To the guns!" - command one: clap, command two: additional stamping with your feet, command three: plus whistle).

The stunk session in Cologne has been held since 1984 as a counter-event to the traditional pomp session, the central showpiece gathering of every carnival association.

She parodies the established session carnival and criticizes politics and the church in a cabaret manner.

AreaWhat is the meaning of the Funkenmariechen?open

"Dat Mariechen" should not be missing from any Cologne carnival session.

She accompanies the corps companies, dances solo or with a dance officer and mixes elements of ballet with acrobatics in her dance style.

"Funkenmariechen" is strictly speaking only at the Kölner Funken, but colloquially all dancers in the carnival are often called Funkenmariechen.

Other names are Tanzmariechen, Tanzkathrinchen (a special feature of the Mainz carnival) and Sutler.

The latter is probably also the 

historical model

for the uniformed dancers: 

 in the early modern period, sutlers went about with the armies


That is why the Mariechen costume with tricorne hat and wig is based on the uniforms of the 18th century. 

Originally, the dancing girls were portrayed by men.

 However, men in women's clothing were a thorn in the side of the National Socialists in the 1930s - and so Mariechen became feminine.

Funkenmariechen at the Shrove Monday procession 2016 in Düsseldorf

Photo: Maja Hitij/ dpa

AreaWhat carnival parades are there?open

"D'r Zoch Kütt!"

With this exclamation, 

 the largest carnival procession in Germany, which started in 1823, is greeted in

Cologne on Shrove Monday.

Even in ancient times, people dressed up for special occasions.

With the advent of carnival celebrations in the High Middle Ages, organized masked parades took place in the cities. 


Cologne Shrove Monday procession is considered the highlight of the street carnival:

 the carnival companies parade through the city with 10,000 participants on foot, on horses or wagons, make music and throw tons of camels and hundreds of thousands of Strüßjer into the crowd.

Around a million spectators sway, sing and waltz along the 7.5 kilometer route - the Zoch itself, however, is half a kilometer longer.

When the first cars cross the finish line, the last ones haven't even started yet.

Particularly popular are the parody or motif carriages, which take aim at current political and social developments, as well as the prince's carriage, which is the highlight of the procession. 

Large Rose Monday parades also take place in the other two Rhenish carnival strongholds  of

Mainz and Düsseldorf

 , with the Düsseldorf parade being famous for its particularly snappy political floats.

On Carnival Sunday, the Schull and Veedelszöch are out and about in Cologne, where the schools and clubs from the Cologne districts, the Veedeln, entertain the revelers with original costumes and music or dance performances. 

A somewhat different parade goes through Cologne on Carnival Saturday: When the Shrove Monday parade was canceled in 1991 because of the Gulf War, anti-war demonstrators and revelers got together, marched through the streets on their own and thus revived the old tradition of ghost parades.

Since then, creepy creatures have been celebrating the alternative carnival on Saturday evening to samba rhythms - without camels and Strüßjer, everyone can run along.

If you like it even smaller and cosier: In almost every Rhenish town or municipality there are their own parades on the carnival days, where you can let the Rhenish cheerfulness run free.

Open areaWhy do the carnival people throw "camelles"?

What is actually meant is "caramel".

These are the candies that are thrown into the audience during the carnival processions.

The throwing material no longer only includes sweets but also chocolate, wine gums and waffles.

In Cologne this year, 300 tons of sweets, over 700,000 bars of chocolate, over 220,000 boxes of chocolates, over 300,000 Strüßjer, thousands of rag dolls and other smaller gifts are to be thrown at the Shrove Monday parade.

As early as the 19th century, 

gifts were brought to the people

at the first carnival processions  .

However, at the time it was more of a select event.

Only later did the volume of the camel rain increase, when other train participants than the prince threw about.

Enlarge image

Carnivalists throw camels

Photo: Federico Gambarini/dpa



- What are they calling? open

The best-known carnival calls in the Rhenish carnival strongholds are "Alaaf" and "Helau".

Roughly speaking, the "Alaaf" revelers cheer in a closed area between Aachen and the Bergisches Land via Cologne to Koblenz.

"Helau" call carnivalists in the area around Düsseldorf and Wuppertal to Kleve and south of Koblenz to Mainz.

You should pay attention to these regional conditions as much as possible, because one or the other jerk on the left and right of the Rhine doesn't understand fun here after all:

Where the word 


 has its roots is not entirely clear.

Some see it as the Spanish "alabar" ("to praise") or the English toast "aloft" ("high").

According to the "Etymological Dictionary", the phrase "al aff" in connection with "colnisch land" was first attested in the 17th century.

A common interpretation says that "all ab" or dialect "all-af" in the discriminating sense of "everything below Cologne" or vice versa means "Cologne above everything".

The oldest evidence of the word is said to be found on a drinking jug from the 16th century in the Cologne City Museum.

Since the 18th century, "alaaf" was a popular Lower Rhine toast and only became a jester's call a century later in the street carnival.

At meetings in Cologne, for example, the triumvirate is greeted and said goodbye to three times with the call.

Incidentally, the then US President John F. Kennedy delighted the people of Cologne in 1963 with the exclamation "Koellen Alaaf" during his visit to Germany. 

 Much is also unclear


"Helau" .

According to folklorist Alois Döring, the word came from Tyrol in 1603.

Some jokingly derive its meaning from light blue or half blue (as opposed to the state blue, meaning drunk) - or from the English "bright".

Also a short form of the heavenly "hallelujah" is discussed or "hell up".

"Helau" could already be heard in the Düsseldorf carnival in the 1830s. 

There are numerous other fools' calls: in Mönchengladbach, for example, "Halt Pohl" ("Stay steadfast") is heard, in Hüls near Krefeld "Breetlook" ("Broad garlic").

areaWhat do the fools have with the elf?open

The number is of great importance in the carnival strongholds.

The carnival season has started on 11/11 since the 19th century.

at 11:11 a.m.

Meetings do not start on the hour, but eleven minutes later, they are chaired by the Elferrat.

Exactly why is not clear.

Originally eleven was considered the 

number of excess and sin.

 In modern Rhenish carnival, however, it also symbolizes the 

equality of fools.

 The three initials of the key words of the French Revolution should be behind it: egalité, liberté, fraternité (equality, liberty, fraternity).

But also the idea of ​​two identical numbers next to each other: one next to one.

Above equals below.

Further interpretations: Eleven is a schnapps number, a fool's number, as one would have said in the Middle Ages.

One more than the ten fingers and the ten commandments, one less than the twelve apostles and than the year has months.

Nothing half and nothing whole, so against the norm, like the idea of ​​​​the fool.

In addition, on November 11th, St. Martin's Day, a pre-Christmas period of reflection and fasting used to begin.

And before that you wanted to really dig in.

areaDoes that have to be with the smooch?open

Kissing allowed!

Bützen comes from the Late Middle High German butzen = to hit, Rhenish for kissing.

Breathed on the cheek with closed lips, sometimes on the mouth.

"Bützen" is not a sin at carnival.

Bützen is an 

expression of cheerfulness.

 No pick-up, baiting is only done voluntarily.

"It's not meant seriously and certainly not sexual," says Jochen Pöttgen, spokesman for the carnival society Jan von Werth's Reiter-Korps in SPIEGEL.

This can sometimes lead to confusion among carnival tourists.

"As much as we're happy about carnival visitors from outside, some didn't understand that. I recommend doing a quick internet search on the subject," says Pöttgen. 

It has always been particularly popular to protect the law enforcement officers, if necessary also disguised ones.

AreaAre you all jeck now? open

The word "Jeck" is the Rhenish variant of "Geck", i.e. the fool.

In "You jeck?!"

it is also used as an adjective: "Are you foolish?!"

The jester has been one of the central carnival characters since the 19th century.

The revelers party wildly, while those who organize all the hustle and bustle, belong to a committee or are on stage, call themselves carnivalists in all seriousness.

The figure of the jester was associated with carnival customs in the 15th century.

He was considered a symbol of the temporary break out of the rigid norms and laws of society.

The fool could speak truths once.

This function is still evident today in the Rhenish carnival, its handmade speeches and floats.

Expand sectionWhy are dolls mourned at the end?

Nubbel and Hoppeditz personify the carnival,

 which is buried in all its viciousness before the start of Lent.

In a figurative sense, they also stand for 



the Cologne carnival

 , the 


is a straw figure that hangs on the roof, out of windows or over doors on Women's Carnival and watches the hustle and bustle from there.

The Nubbel is in the truest sense the 


 for all misdeeds committed during the foolish activities. 

So that the revelers can clean themselves before the beginning of Lent, the Nubbel is burned together with its sins with great howling on the night of Ash Wednesday.

According to Wikipedia, the word "Nubbel" is a Cologne term that describes the approximate, i.e. it is not very tangible.

What is meant is "someone" or "somewhere": "Dä it when Nubbel" means "He is somewhere".


Düsseldorf counterpart

 is the 


 also a doll that is buried, drowned or burned on Ash Wednesday.

His awakening will then be on 11.11.


At the beginning, a very lively Hoppeditz figure jumps out of a mustard pot and gives a speech.

What the name means is unclear.

It could be a composition of the two Rhenish words "hoppe" for hopping and "Ditz" for little kid. 

Depending on the region, there are different names for the prominent carnival doll.

In Jülich she is also called Lazarus Strohmannus, in Alemannic Jokili.

Source: spiegel

All life articles on 2023-02-02

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