11:11 am on November 11
While the rest of Europe remembers those fallen in World War I on Armistice Day, a small group of over-zealous Germans annually choose this moment to pretend that the confluence of number ones gives them a reason to host a Karneval “opening.” Various modest events take place on the streets of Germany’s cities, including the presentation of the Karneval Prince and Princess, after which everyone goes home sheepishly. Then, nothing at all happens until…
January 6 – Dreikönigstag – Epiphany
An ancient feast day with its Orthodox origins was once chosen as the real start of Karneval in the German-speaking world. But again, not much happens, except to give Germany’s chartered accountants an official license to dress up as pirates and shout things like “Ho Narro!” behind you while you’re trying to drink a milkshake. As this day is fixed on the calendar, and Ash Wednesday, the conclusion of Karneval, is dependent on Easter, Karneval-time gets compressed some years. Last year’s Karneval was the shortest since 1913 – which was probably terribly upsetting for some pirate accountants.
Schmotziger Donnerstag – Fat Thursday
The Thursday before Ash Wednesday is the day that the first parades and street festivals appear. It is also known as Weiberfastnacht, which could be translated as Wenches’ Carnival. According to an ancient protocol, reborn with the modern Karneval-era in 1823, this is traditionally the day when “women and girls” rip off each other’s clothes in the street, and rub themselves a salty, artery-clogging fat called Schmalz – hence Schmotzig. Ok, ok that part about girls greasing down each other is not actually true, but we wish it was. Instead, women celebrate Weiberfastnacht by running around the Rhineland and snipping off the ties of men dumb enough to wear one this day. Supposedly they’re compensated for losing this symbol of their manhood with a kiss. It has also become tradition for groups of women to storm local town halls in the Rhineland to show who’s wearing the trousers.
The traditional Saturnalian highpoint of Karneval, named not after roses, but rasen, the German term for what the British call “going on a bender.” The centres of the Rhine cities get very crowded, and very sexually charged, usually by mid-morning. The drug of choice is Feigling, the fig-based liquor that is only drunk in a mood of desperate celebration, and the costumes are often quite suggestive. Put it this way – a lot people don’t come out for the parades with the satirical floats.
Fastnachtsdienstag – Shrove Tuesday – Mardi Gras
This is essentially an extension of Rosenmontag, but the atmosphere is slightly tempered by the impending end of the fifth season on Ash Wednesday. It is also known as Veilchendienstag, or Violet Tuesday – a continuation of the misleading flower theme which one innocent fool once used to name the whole Karneval weekend: Nelkensamstag (Carnation Saturday), Tulpensonntag, (Tulip Sunday) and Rosenmontag. However, flowers play very little part in proceedings.