Narri, Narro shout the demons in the streets. Narri, Narro shout the witches as they jump across the fire. What sounds like a scene from medieval hell is happening every year in the streets of towns and hamlets all across southern Germany.
Carnival or as it is called there “Fasnet or Fasnacht” has its origins in medieval times when people gathered to eat all the remaining food they were not allowed during the forty days of fasting before Easter. And food is still a big part of the traditions. People eat a type of sweet bun called “Krapfen” or “Berliner” which is a deep fried bun filled with jam and covered in powdered sugar, which is especially popular with children.
Over time many more traditions developed, such as songs and parades and elaborate costumes.
In the 18th century Fasnet was replaced by “Karneval” in many regions in south-western Germany. Karneval was more influenced by the Italian “carnivale” and focused on making fun of the authorities and the church. This tradition nowadays is mainly concentrated around Cologne and Mainz. Costumes there are more reminiscent of 18th century uniforms. In the more southern parts of Germany people however went back to the medieval roots of the celebration and revived traditions such as wooden masks and jumping over fires. The groups are organized in guilds or ‘clubs’ which all wear the same costumes and have their own traditions and events. Every town and village usually has their own guilds with specific costumes. For examples the ‘Witches’ wear large wooden masks with long noses and huge eyes. They always carry a large broom and are known to play tricks and jokes on the people watching the parades. It is also the witches that meet at night to jump over a large fire, which is one of the highlights of Fasnet.
When I was a young boy I always was looking forward to the start of the celebrations, always on the Thursday in the week before Ash Wednesday. Everybody would come in masquerade and the witches and demons and jester would come to our school in a parade and ‘free’ us pupils. They would go to the principal to demand the key of the school and all pupils went to the main hall which was filled with laughter, loud music and flying candy. That’s the main benefit for the children that in these days on the parades the jesters always throw sweets into the crowds and for a few days the children can eat as much candy as their hearts desire. Of course, music plays a big role. There are many traditional carnival songs, usually poking fun at politicians or the church or just being funny in general. Narri, Narro shout the demons in the streets. Narri, Narro shout the witches as they jump across the fire. What sounds like a scene from medieval hell is happening every year in the streets of towns and hamlets all across southern Germany.
Fasnet is a time in which all usual rules are turned on its head, people walk through the city in costumes and party and celebrate everywhere. And it’s not only the professional jesters, everyday people dress up as well, as pirates, witches, animals. The only limits are creativity and the cold February weather. Fasnet is also called the ‘fifth season’ besides spring, summer, autumn and winter. After one week of craziness the towns return to their mundane and ordered everyday life. The witches jump one last time and then go to sleep until the following year.