Just before the end of January, I was in the grocery store with a friend when we passed an aisle filled with costumes- the exact same sorts of costume gear that you would normally see in a Target or a Walgreens just before Halloween. Naturally, I asked what the deal was.
It turns out that there’s another holiday here that involves dressing up. It’s called Fasching, and it’s this month. Fasching is Carnival, a.k.a. the local version of Mardi Gras, and it happens roughly seven weeks before Easter. It spans several different days, with a variety of different events.
The Thursday before Ash Wednesday is known as “Weiberfastnacht”, or “Women’s carnival night”. On this day tradition dictates that women are allowed to cut off the tie of any man within reach. The women are also allowed to kiss any man they like, according to some versions of tradition. (Not one to waste an opportunity, I bought four cheap neckties. And some ChapStick.)
The following Monday is known as Rosenmontag (Rose Monday). On Rosenmontag there are various street processions involving lots of costumes and carnival floats. Faschingsdienstag (Carnival Tuesday) is the last day of Fasching and when most of the festivities happen. Faschingsdienstag is not an official public holiday in Bavaria, but it’s still celebrated.
The traditional food of Carnival season is Krapfen, or donuts. They’re available in every bakery, in all sorts of different flavors. I’ve heard of varieties containing sweets such as vanilla, marmelade, or chocolate.
According to legend, it used to be customary to choose a man to be the “sacred king” of the tribe for a year. The method of choosing the sacred king was the King’s Cake. A coin or bean would be placed in the cake before baking and whoever got the slice with the coin was the chosen one. Another version of the King’s Cake story says that it’s just a king for a day scenario. I haven’t found any reference works that I trust to be completely authoritative so far, but I’ve seen numerous references indicating that the King’s Cake idea has evolved into the donuts that we’re familiar with today.
My favorite part of this, so far,is the costumes though. So far today, I’ve only seen three people dressed in costume so far, and two of them worked in the bakery where I get my morning pretzel. I’ve also seen posters for Kinder-Fasching, which is basically for the kids. (Kinder = children.) I suspect I’ll see a bunch more costumes after work, but I expect to see more when I go out this evening for my usual bi-weekly Stammtisch. The word doesn’t translate easily to English, but a stammtisch is just a meeting group. This particular stammtisch is the Regensburg English Stammtisch, which is a group that meets every other Thursday to drink and chat in English. I try not to miss it because it’s a heap of fun.
Naturally, I’ll have another tie on for that part of my evening.