Come to a festival? Ok then, I will get on an airplane! When considering pre-lenten celebrations, most people think of either Mardi Gras in New Orleans or Carnival in Rio; no one considers Germany. However, two cities in Germany hold rather large and entertaining pre-lenten festivals called Karneval (Cologne) and Fastnacht (Mainz). Throw in an inviation from two crazy German friends to attend the Mainz celebration, and Anna and I are on a flight bound for Frankfurt.
Faschnacht (or Fasching) is the gigantic party leading up to what is Ash Wednesday, which occurs 46 days before Easter. This festival has roots dating back to the 14th and 15th century and started in Mainz in 1838. Now I know that Germany in February is freezing cold, but after a couple beers you won’t care. The most important thing you should be considering is your costume. Just like Halloween, every night of this 5 day/night festival people dress up in costumes. Animal costumes typically are the favorite as dressing up like a giant furry bear keeps one pretty warm. Plus it’s hilarious when your friends have tails, they are fun to pull!!
Come prepared, because Germans can DRINK. Like a lot, all day! The five day schedule is pretty intense, starting on Thursday, called Altweiber, typically known as Ladies Night. Most people in Mainz gather at Eisgrub (the brewery) for this event, where they transform this restaurant into a club. Friday night is the most calm night of the week, but if you have your heart set on partying all five nights, a pub crawl works. For Saturday the party moves out to Gonsenheim, an outer suburb of Mainz. Alternatively, if you prefer to stay in the city center the Prinzengardenball is a secondary option. For both these events it’s best to have advance tickets, as they are quite popular, so make friends with a local.
I promised parades, because who doesn’t love candy being thrown at them from a moving vehicle? On Sunday everyone takes the short tram ride out to Finthen where the parade and a large outdoor celebration is held in the afternoon. Save your warm costumes for Sunday night, as the party moves outside again into the Schillerplatz. A giant stage is erected for the bands and everyone parties in one of the town squares. Ladies, pay the three euro entrance fee to the Extrablatt Cafe adjacent to the Platz, this way you can make unlimited trips to their clean and warm bathroom facilities.
The Sunday after-party destination splits between the Extrablatt Cafe, right off the Schillerplatz, or Ballplatz. For the parades and other outdoor events, it’s best to come prepared and bring alcohol. However for the poor planners out there, convenience stores called kiosks do sell select beer and spirits, just don’t plan on being picky at this point. Someone nearly always brings a bag of beer babies though!
Rosen Montag or Rose Monday, is the final day of the festival. A giant parade with roughly a million spectators moves through the city and you will catch enough Haribo gummies to last you a month. The parade lasts three hours– I kept thinking, how do these people have that many floats?! One of the guys in our group had a bottle of Jäger and we did a round of jäger shots roughly every twenty minutes during the parade and by the time it was over, the bottle was empty. This is the only time I have ever witnessed Germans littering– empty champagne bottles, candy wrappers and beer cans strewn about. Miraculously, the entire street is clean and clear about three hours after the parade due to the military precision of the street sweepers. At this point everyone breaks off to various parties, bars and celebrations, or they just go home, because they have been drinking with Germans for five days straight!
Never have I been more welcomed with open arms into a culture as I was by the people of Mainz at this festival. They were always courteous to translate what everyone was shouting, or include us in the games and events of the festival. The first weekend we attended Fasching sparked so many friendships with people we have cherished over the last five years! Always man up and take that shot of Jäger, because in Germany that’s how you make a new friend!