Karneval - German Carnival and Mardi Gras

January, February, and March are usually gray, damp, and cold in most of Germany, but that doesn't seem to stop the revelers from celebrating "Karneval," a time to party before Lent. Wearing long underwear under their costumes and heavy jackets on top, they are well able to watch the parades and sway to the music without spilling a drop of good beer.

  • 01 of 05

    Karneval - Seriously Fun

    Karneval in Berlin
    Christian Marquardt / Getty Images

    Karneval begins on 11.11 at 11:11 o'clock in the morning. This November day also happens to be Martinstag when goose is eaten and carols are sung by children going door to door to beg for sweets (see more about Martinstag).

    At this time, the "Narren" which is translated as "jokers" or "jesters" but much more serious, at least in regards to Karneval, present the royal couple for Karneval ("Prinzenkürung"), explain the chosen theme for the year and hand over the keys to the city, usually an oversized set, just for fun.

    See here for a Karneval dictionary and take a look at the dates for Karneval in Germany.

  • 02 of 05

    Karnevalbaelle - Parties for Carnival

    Elsie Hui/Flickr/CC 2.0

    Karnevalsbälle became a prominent feature of Karneval during the 19th and 20th centuries. Every Karnevalsverein (Carnival Club) would put one on, beginning after the Feast of the Epiphany in January and lasting through the season until Ash Wednesday.

    Most of these parties are costume balls, with fairy tale characters, harem girls and the like being popular dress-up choices.

    At these parties, the usual fare consists of cold salads, such as macaroni or rice salads, cold Frikadellen, bread and cheese, skewers with fruit and cheese, goulash soup or midnight soup, and desserts which can be held in the hand or puddings. In addition to the regular fare, deep fried Karneval treats (donuts) are often present. And don't forget the hedgehog out of raw pork (Mettigel). While not as prominent as it used to be, Mett is a very popular treat. All this heavy ​fare creates a basis for soaking up the beer that is drunk.

  • 03 of 05

    Karneval Treats on the Rhine (Duesseldorf, Cologne)

    Traditional Carnival - Politicians Kiss
    Johannes Simon/Getty Images

    Duesseldorfer's prefer Altbier and Kölnern (citizens of Cologne) drink Kölsch. During Karneval, they migrate to heavier dishes, such as Eisbein, Sauerbraten or Himmel und Äad. Mutzenmandeln are their preferred, fried donuts. These are shaped like an almond, flavored with ground almonds and almond extract and deep fried. Sugar is sprinkled on top.

  • 04 of 05

    Fasching in Rottweil

    German pretzels

    The Black Forest is the heart of Swabia, a heavily Catholic and historically poor area. Fastnacht, another word for Fasching, is celebrated with only the people in the parades dressing in traditional costumes. Pretzels and candy are thrown to the bystanders and "Rosetten" are popular fried treats. Read more about Fasching here. 

    Continue to 5 of 5 below.
  • 05 of 05

    Fasnet in Basel

    Basler Fasnet
    AndreasPraefcke/Wikimedia Commons/CC 2.5

    Basler Fasnet begins the Monday after Ash Wednesday and runs for three days. You can eat breakfast at three o'clock in the morning in your hotel, so you do not miss the start of one of the most beautiful parades, the "Morgestraich." At four o'clock, all of the street lights go out, and the paraders light their own lanterns. After about three hours of watching the parade in the cold, revelers adjourn to another Basler tradition, warming up with a bowl of Mehlsuppe (flour soup) and Zwiebelwähe (a flat bread with onion and sometimes cheese and onion), on the menu in most every restaurant. In the evenings, the "Schnitzelbänggler" travel from pub to pub to give silly speeches and songs.

    On Tuesday, the "wilde Fasnet" is held. The beautiful lanterns from the day before are on display in the main square and "Gugge Musik Konzerte" are held. Wednesday, ​ the final parade is held and then the whole party is over. People go back to work, shops open back up, and the various groups begin practicing for the next year's celebrations.