Did you know that Germany has a fifth season? It ended last night on the stroke of midnight. No, it’s not Oktoberfest although eating and drinking certainly play a major role. That fifth season is Carnival (Karneval, Fasnacht or Fasching), a time of celebrations, merry-making and frolicking. Customs and traditions vary from region to region, and country to country, as do the names, but parties, costumes and masks are a vital part of the celebrations in all the German-speaking nations. The various and diverse festivities are mostly concentrated in the Catholic regions where the weeks and days before Lent offered an opportunity to live it up.

There are essentially two main Carnival variations: the Rhenish Carnival in the western part of Germany, especially in Düsseldorf, Cologne, and Mainz; and the Alemannic or Swabian Fasnacht in southwestern Germany, Alsace in France, Switzerland, and western Austria. Officially, carnival starts on Nov. 11 at 11:11 am, but the festivals, parties and balls usually take place in the final two weeks of Carnival. The parades however are on the Monday and Tuesday before Ash Wednesday, Rosenmontag and Faschingsdienstag, Rose Monday and Fat Tuesday – or Mardi Gras in Louisiana. In Austria, carnival coincides with ball season, and there are a number of elaborate balls at various venues throughout Vienna and other cities. The most famous one is perhaps the Vienna Opera Ball, an extravagant society spectacle that attracts 5,000 visitors and millions of TV viewers.

Modern-day carnival in western Germany has its beginnings in the early 19th century during the French Napoleonic occupation of the Rhine region – hence the uniforms and tricorn hats that are often seen at formal parades – when the season was used for mocking the French officers and soldiers. The tradition of poking fun at and criticizing political and public figures is still very much alive, and the parades feature floats that pull no punches. In the southern and Alemannic tradition, it’s all about masks, which can be beautiful, funny or even frightening to scare away bad spirits, but they are always elaborate and often handcrafted.

While costumes and parades may be more recent inventions, the tradition of rich food is much older. Faschingskrapfen, a type of donut filled with jam and dusted with sugar, as well as other baked goods have been around since the 13th century. Genuine Krapfen are hard to get in the U.S., but with a little ingenuity, elbow grease, and the right ingredients you can make them yourself. Try your hand at one of these recipes: Faschingskrapfen 1 or Faschingskrapfen 2

For now, it’s all over, but the fifth season will start anew come November. In the meantime, take a look at these German Carnival impressions.



St. Nikolaustag

              Today, December 6th, is Der Nikolaustag (St. Nicholas Day) and this means that all throughout German-speaking countries children woke up this morning to goodies from St. Nicholas left in their boots or stockings!            Der Nikolaustag is based off a real person, der Heilige Nikolaus (St. Nicholas), who was born in the 200s A.D. in what we now know as Turkey. He became the Bishop of Myra and the Patron Saint of Children, Sailors, Students, Teachers, and Merchants and was known for giving secret-gifts to the poor and those he protected. It is said that he died on December 6th, 343 A.D., which is why this day is now the day that we celebrate his life and legacy.

Krampus Nacht

In the US we have the tradition that if children behave, Santa will bring them toys. If they don’t behave, Santa will bring them coal. In Germany there is a similar tradition but instead of having one person, Santa, giving out everything, you have two people, St. Nicholas giving out toys, and his companion Krampus, giving out coal.  

Krampus is an anthropomorphic character that is “half-goat” and “half-demon. While St. Nicholas rewards children that have good behavior with sweets and presents, Krampus punishes misbehaved children.

National Day of Mourning

We at the German-American Heritage Foundation would like to honor the members of the German Armed Forces who died in both of the world wars, the citizens who died in armed conflicts, and the victims of violent oppression this Sunday on Germany’s National Day of Mourning.

Sunday, November 19th is Volkstrauertag (People’s Day of Mourning). It is a public holiday that commemorates fallen soldiers as well as civilians during armed conflict and violent oppressions. This day of remembrance is always held two Sundays before the first day of Advent, as this time of the year is the end of the Liturgical Year and is typically a time to remember the dead and think about time and eternity.

Sankt Martin’s Day

Laterne, Laterne,  Sonne, Mond und Sterne.  Brenne auf mein Licht,  Brenne auf mein Licht,  aber nur meine liebe Laterne nicht. 

     Walking through the streets of a German town the evening of November 11th you might hear children singing this song as they carry hand crafted Paper Lanterns through the streets. The above text is the first verse of a Popular German Sankt Martin’s song.  

     Sankt Martin is celebrated in Germany every year the evening of November 11th. It is a fest dedicated to St. Martin of Tours and his modesty and altruism. The legend, known by all children in Germany, states that St. Martin saved a homeless man from freezing to death by giving him half of his cloak.  

     In the weeks leading up to Sankt Martin’s Day children make their own paper lanterns, either at school or at home. Then in the evening, a person dressed up as a Roman soldier riding on a horse, to signify St. Martin, leads a Lantern Procession through the town. As the children walk through the streets they carry their Lanterns and sing songs similar to the ones above. At the end of the procession Glühwein and sweet pastries are served.  

     Originally the holiday was followed by a fast that lasted until Christmas so many traditions associated with this holiday center around food. In addition to the Glühwein and sweet pastries many Germans still have a festive meal with roasted Duck or Goose as the main meal. 

Written by Elena Osiander

       During the Cold War, Germany was split into two parts, the Bundesrepublik Deutschland (Federal Republic of Germany), also known as the BRD, and the Deutsche Demokratische Republik (German Democratic Republik), also known as the DDR. The communist DDR in eastern Germany was ruled by the Soviet Union while the BRD was a democratic nation. In addition, Berlin was split into East Berlin and West Berlin, essentially creating a “geographic loophole” used by thousands of East Germans to flee to the democratic west.

      In order to keep this from happening, the East German Authorities built a wall separating the French, British and American Sectors of West Berlin from the Soviet Union Sector in East Germany. Overnight on August 13th, 1961 the East German Authorities built a wall spanning 96 miles and completely encircling West Berlin. 

      While the Berlin wall was in place, people continued on with their lives but what that daily life looked like differed depending what side of the wall they were on. Whereas West Germans were allowed to travel to East Germany with a visa, Eastern Germans were forbidden from leaving their side of the wall.

       In addition, basic human rights such as freedom of speech were guaranteed in the BDR whereas in the DDR officials went as far as secretly placing microphones in people’s apartments to listen to their private conversations and make sure they weren’t planning anything against the East German Authorities. On the other hand, women in Eastern Germany had a more equal place in the workforce than the women in Western Germany.  While women in Eastern Germany had had the opportunity to work factory jobs and were guaranteed a childcare spot for their children, women in Western Germany didn’t have many work opportunities and therefore stayed home and took the care of the children while the men were at work.

       Since the life in the DDR was challenging, people living in Eastern Germany were looking for ways to escape to Western Germany. There were a lot of ways people tried to sneak their way into Western Germany: through an underground tunnel, in a hot air balloon or in western friends’ cars. This went on for a while, but 28 years after the wall went up the Cold War was starting to fade away in Germany, taking with it the Berlin Wall.

       On November 9th, 1989, 28 years ago today Günter Schakowsky, a spokesman for the East Berlin Communist Party, announced at an International Press Conference that the travel restrictions for East Germany would be lifted. When asked when he replied “As of now, immediately!” even though it was originally planned for the following day in order to have a better oversight on exit visas, stamps, and passports. As one can imagine, this caused for a lot of celebration in Berlin. People from both sides started climbing over the wall, chiseling the wall in attempts to break it down and standing on or near the wall singing and cheering as the concrete Iron Curtain that had divided Germany for the past 30 years was being demolished.

      About a year later on October 3rd, 1990 the five former German states that made up East Germany rejoined the Federal Republic of Germany. In addition, East and West Berlin reunited and became Germany’s third city-state. That day is known in German history as German Reunification Day and is celebrated on October 3rd every year.

Written by Elena Osiander