The fasnacht carnival was in the town of Hausach and it took about forty minutes to drive there passing through Waldkirch again where there were preparations in place for a carnival there later that evening which caused a bit of congestion but nothing too serious and we arrived on schedule in Hausach and finding the place curiously quiet we parked the car in a town centre car park.
There were a few folk in costume wandering around the streets but nothing that made us confident that there was to be a big event here in just about two hours time. Eventually we enquired of a man in an elaborate green costume and he confirmed that soon the road would be closed in preparation for the event. Fearful of being stuck in the car park with no way out until tomorrow morning we returned and moved it to a location about five hundred metres out of town where we were confident we would not be inconvenienced by the road closure and later we were glad that we did.
As we walked back into town we passed final preparations for a couple of beer tents and judging by the amount of alcohol being delivered there was going to be some serious drinking tonight.
The festival of Fasnacht is a carnival in Alemannic folklore that takes place in the few days before Lent in Southern Germany, Switzerland and Alsace. The Alemanni were German tribes who lived in this part of Europe nearly two thousand years ago and this area remains characterised by a form of German with a distinct dialogue called Alemannic. The celebration literally means ‘Fasting Eve’ as it originally referred to the day before the fasting season of Lent. The schools are all closed for this festival and all over the Black Forest there are six days of parties and making merry.
During this period a sort of doughnut is popular and these are called fasnachts that are a traditional fatty treat that are produced as a way to empty the pantry of lard, sugar, fat and butter, which are forbidden during Lent. This is a catholic tradition but in protestant England we call this Shrove Tuesday and serve pancakes instead of doughnuts, it is much the same thing.
The tradition dates back to pre-Christian days and has the appearance of an almost pagan affair in which the old traditions of driving out winter have mingled with pre-Lenten celebrations. The participants dress as spirits, demons, and witches wearing heavy wooden masks that are intricately carved and handed down from generation to generation.
There was a couple of hours until the start of the parade so we found a friendly looking gasthaus where people were starting to gather for the event and ate a good meal and drank a couple of beers while we watched the event stewards preparing for their duties by drinking several litres of pils each and getting completely legless. As the start time approached we paid our bill, left the gasthaus and took up a viewing position at the side of the road.
In the distance we could hear music and then in an adjacent street we could see the torchlight parade approaching. This particular Fasnacht takes place every two years and celebrates the driving out of the witches that represent the banishing of winter.
At the head of the parade came the witches with their gruesome masks who swished the streets with their besom brooms then a procession of goblins and other fantastic creatures. Every now and again there was a band of drummers beating wildly, ringing bells and playing trumpets and trombones to drive the witches out of town. There were seventy-two groups participating and these are all unique guilds or clubs who have the same uniform and identity. Some were scary witches with grotesque features others wore animal masks of all kinds, as well as masks of mythological characters that figure in local folklore and history, everyone in the group wears the same costume, walks the same and behaves in the same way.
That’s only until they have had too much drink of course and as the groups kept coming the parade became more and more untidy and boisterous as the marchers kept darting into the crowd to play pranks and encourage participation. People were dragged to the floor in mock fighting, others had hats and shoes stolen and one group picked on the pretty girls and had a trick of tying their legs together at the ankles with plastic cable ties. It was all good fun and the marches whooped and shouted and jumped about on wooden poles as they all made their steady progress towards the beckoning beer tent.
As it came towards the end we walked alongside the marchers and not being brave enough to join them at the bar we made our way back to the car past groups of tidily teenagers in fancy dress who were all getting ready for Hausach’s biggest night of the year and with the booming of the drums ringing in our ears we drove out of the town and took the direct route back to Offenburg and the Rammersweier Hoff hotel.