Chasing Out the Demons of Winter

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There are a few variations on the German name for carnival, but here in the south west corner use of the largely Swiss-German name "Fasnacht" (or the alternate spelling of Fastnacht) and its Alemannish version Fasnet betrays the shared Alemannic heritage of the area. Elsewhere it is known "Fasching".


(Click any image to enlarge and scroll through the gallery)

Although carnival season actually begins each year at 11:11 a.m. on November 11th, the carnival parades mark the beginning of lent - the 40 days of fasting leading up to Easter as observed in the Christian calendar - and Fasnacht translates variously to "eve of the fast" or "night of the feast".

Most of the parades take place on the weekend or the Monday ("Rosenmontag" or "Rose Monday") before Ash Wednesday, though some, such as in Müllheim, take place the weekend before, and others (usually in the suburbs of larger carnival cities) on Shrove Tuesday. There is also a tradition for some carnivals to time their parades for the weekend after Ash Wednesday, such as at Sulzburg.

Although the origins of later date are not certain, some suggest that it is as a result of a Protestant tradition of counting Sundays in the 40 days of lent; since 1091 the Catholic church has excluded Sundays from the count of days in lent, thus bringing the start of lent forward by 6 days. Traditionally the earlier carnival is known as Herrenfasnacht or Pfaffenfasnacht (lords' or priests' carnival) and the latter as Bauernfasnacht or Burefasnet (farmers' or peasants' carnival).

Unlike other carnivals around the world that Alamanicus has witnessed, the German carnival focusses less on the vehicle, of which there are few if any, and more on the individual costumes. Members of carnival clubs dress uniformly as demons and witches, and are generally referred to as "Narren" (fools). The march of the fools through town accompanied by the thumping beat of the Guggenmusik* marching bands represents the evil spirits of winter being chased away. The fools don't always go quietly, and there's many an attempt to carry off the younger women in the watching crowds, or frighten the wits out of the children, whose bravery is rewarded with great handfuls of sweets.

A tradition that appears to be peculiar to the villages around Sulzburg is Scheibenfeuer (literally: "pucks of fire") which takes place on the slopes above the village. Small pucks of wood are attached to the end of a long pole and heated in a bonfire. When the pucks are glowing hot the pole is swung round and crashed down onto a ramp, which sends the puck arcing in a trail of sparks into the night sky. Traditionally the Scheibenfeuer shows the sun how it is supposed to be tracing a bright line in the sky, thus bringing an end to winter.

* Check out Alamanicus' favourite Guggenmusik band on YouTube with the Strauschoeh-Schlurbi (S³) playlist (and especially the cracking good drum solo!).

P.S. Hope you like the pictures, especially of the Sulzburg carnival. Alamanicus cycled his heart to near destruction to get there and back again.

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Alamanicus is wandering his old Alemanni haunts, revisiting the places where once he used to drink, carouse, and beat up the odd Roman legionnaire or two. Things have moved on since his day, and the old Alemanni country now lies across south west Germany, French Alsace, and northern Switzerland. Cut through by the mighty Rhine, it is an area of great beauty, and a lot has happened there since Alamanicus last walked this land.


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Guest Sunday, 27 May 2018

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Autumnal Glow in Müllheim, by Alamanicus on

Autumnal Glow in Müllheim by Alamanicus