The Swabian-Alemannic Fastnacht at BINDER

February 2015 Fasnacht

Wild traditions: The Swabian-Alemannic Fastnacht

February was a special time in Tuttlingen, Baden-Württemberg, as carnival season – or "Fastnacht" – came around again. Particularly in southern Germany, the carnival festivities build on centuries of history and tradition. The processions of the Swabian-Alemannic Fastnacht are among the most original, wild, and yet authentic customs of the Fastnacht period. For this reason, in December 2014 the Swabian-Alemannic Fastnacht was admitted into UNESCO's German Nationwide Inventory of Intangible Cultural Heritage.


Origins of “Fastnacht”

The origins of “Fastnacht” go back to the Middle Ages where they were mentioned in a document from the 13th century. The Swabian-Alemannic “Fastnacht” has its origins in the Christian calendar, as the festival celebrated before the beginning of the forty-day Lent period before Easter. Lent begins on Ash Wednesday, the Wednesday after Fastnacht.


During the six-week-long Lent period, it was forbidden to consume meat and other products from animals such as lard, fat, milk, butter, cheese, and eggs, under penalty of harsh punishment. As a consequence, large amounts of meat were consumed in the final days before Lent. People also looked for ways in which to use up perishable stocks. Festivals were created to use up these stocks and “Fastnacht” was born. As people needed to make use of leftovers, the 13th century saw the arrival of "Fastnachtsküchlein", small cakes traditionally made from deep-fried dough which were commonly prepared shortly before the start of “Fastnacht”, on "fetten ("schmotzig" in southern German) Donnerstag", or "fat/dirty Thursday".



A break from everyday life

From the 14th century onwards, customs such as dancing, processions or “Fastnacht” games usually complemented the excessive consumption of food. This fulfilled the needs of everyone involved. Lent demanded abstinence in two senses: on the one hand, abstaining from the consumption of meat and other dishes and, on the other hand, the equally important renunciation of all other temptations of the flesh, i.e., sexual abstinence. Thus the great days of celebration before Lent were like a valve, allowing revelers to let off steam before the period of abstinence. Many young couples had their wedding night specifically on “Fastnacht” to stop them from sinning during Lent and, because of this, “Fastnacht” became one of the most popular wedding dates of the year.




Characteristic features of Swabian-Alemannic “Fastnacht” include disguises such as masks, including larval masks and specter masks, which are usually made of wood. The masks are very diverse, from animal designs and witch masks to smooth faces. Those wearing costumes do not change their costumes (called “Häs”) from year to year. In fact, the costume is often passed on from generation to generation. Items such as bells, sleigh bells, as well as pig bladders, “Narrenwurst” (a sausage-shaped pouch), snuff-boxes, whips, mirrors, sabers, etc. are also carried. There are also special "Narrenrufe", or "fool's greetings", that revelers use to greet one another. These are unique greetings that differ from place to place.


Recipe: traditional carnival cakes (“Fastnachtsküchlein”) >