This ain’t no Hallowe’en*.
This is Fasching and Maschkera in southern Germany. It’s also about about distinctions and differences by comparison with Karneval on the Rhein.
Festivities take place before Catholic Lent, and the key idea behind the wild colourful costumes and wooden masks is the very pagan origin and ritual of driving out or driving away evil spirits of winter lurking inside people and their homes and welcoming the friendly spirits of spring for a productive growing season.
Here in the Werdenfelser Land of southern Bavaria, Fasching begins on the first Sunday after Heilige Drei Könige (Epiphany) and ends on the night of Faschingsdienstag (Shrove Tuesday) at midnight. Important dates for Fasching and Maschkera include:
- 1st Sunday after Heilige Drei Könige (Epiphany)
- Unsinniger Donnerstag: Crazy Thursday; a.k.a. Fat Thurs. (6 days before Ash Wed.)
- Faschingssamstag: Carnival Saturday (4 days before Ash Wednesday)
- Faschingssonntag: Carnival Sunday (3 days before Ash Wednesday)
- Rosenmontag: Shrove Monday; a.k.a. Carnival Monday, Frolic Monday
- Faschingsdienstag: Shrove Tuesday; a.k.a. Fat Tuesday, Mardi Gras
- Aschermittwoch: Ash Wednesday, the 1st of 40 days for Lent, leading to Easter
* Hallowe’en follows the Celtic ritual of appeasing spirits with sweets on the night before All Saints’ Day.
“Tour de Badakurch” in Partenkirchen – Faschingssonntag (Carnival Sunday)
German Alpine towns on Sunday are supposed to be quiet. But on this Carnival Sunday, the crowd noise from down the street is something entirely different.
Around 1pm, the “Tour de Badakurch” bicycle race is in full effect, but the “Maschkera Radl Rennen” is no ordinary race. To mark the annual Fasching festival here in the Loisach river valley, the Sunday bike race through Partenkirchen involves decorated bicycles and riders outfitted with garish colourful costumes. There are race judges: it’s not about best speed, but completely about the costume.
Maschkera in Mittenwald – Faschingsdienstag (Shrove Tuesday)
A cry pierces the daytime murmur in town: “YOO-hoo-hoooo!”
Some time passes, and there it goes again, as a second voice begins when the first voice ends. It sounds like “yodelus interruptus”, pinned between inquiry and declaration. It seems as if each cry is stuck between a question of timing to call out and a statement of intent to let loose.
Mittenwald is a town best known for its history of violin-making, but it’s not surprising people apt at shaping wood would also create masks for the season. It’s the time of year for residents to dig out the Holzlarven (wooden masks). Some masks and costumes are available in local shops, but the tradition is carried out by residents with inherited masks and costumes some of which have been passed down over generations. The masks are supposed to hide the true identity of festival participants who might also change their speaking voice and regular gait to enhance their disguise. Whatever mischief occurs and whatever happens during Maschkera stays inside Maschkera. Letting loose also means making fun of authority, which makes the disguise an important part of past tradition to mock without threat or penalty.
The exact history of Maschkera, masks, and customs is lost in history. But with some masks centuries old, every hand-carved and -painted wood mask has its own story: so many masks, so little time. And as for the colourful patchwork “Fleckerl” costume, if you guessed its construction with odds and ends and bits and pieces from whatever was found around the house, you’d be correct; by tradition, the costume is passed down from father to son.
• Tour de Badakurch: BR24/ARD, 27.02.2017: “na ja, dumm gelaufen!”
• Der unsinnige Donnerstag in Mittenwald, Westfälische Rundschau, 28.12.2017
• Maschkera-Gehen: Fasching in Mittenwald, Schwarz auf Weiss Reisemagazin
I made all photos and the video on 26 and 28 February 2017. I’m grateful to Alpenwelt Karwendel for their advice. Die Fotoaufnahmen sind mit Wasserzeichen versehen worden. This post appears on Fotoeins Fotografie at fotoeins.com as https://wp.me/p1BIdT-aYX.