Photo by Molly Hayden

The atmosphere was festive at the Vilseck Fasching parade. Photo by Molly Hayden, USAG Bavaria Public Affairs.

GRAFENWOEHR, Germany — It officially began on the 11th day of the 11th month at 11:11 a.m., but the hoopla is just around the corner.


Fasching is Germany’s carnival season, a time of festivity and merrymaking.


It’s an excuse to break rules (and poke fun at those who make them). Towns are kaleidoscopically painted with streamers, garland and confetti while festival-goers don elaborate costumes, masks and make merriment.


Germany is not lacking in traditional festivals, however, Fasching stands out as the most colorful time of the year and normally serves to welcome in the season of Lent.


This gives rise to such customs as handing over the keys of the city to a council of fools or ceremoniously letting women rule — for a day.


Noisy, costumed parades and masked balls, satirical and often impertinent plays, speeches and newspaper columns, and excessive behavior are commonplace during Fasching season.


This hullabaloo peaks during the days preceding Ash Wednesday.


While the traditions today coincide with the religious season, in pre-Christian times, the celebrations symbolized driving out winter and the spirits associated with it. Masks were predominantly used to scare these evil spirits.


The biggest Fasching festival is held in Cologne, where millions of visitors flood the streets in celebration each year. But nearly every German city, big or small, hosts an impressive and vibrant party.


For more on Fasching parties in the area, check out our German Events calendar.