festivals Germany for beginners

Carnival (Karneval / Fasching / Fastnacht)

Carnival: Karneval, Fasching, Fastnacht… As so often in Germany there are different names for one and the same thing depending on the region. In Germany it is often described as this: controlled excess!


Mainly these 3 names are used:
(Der) Karneval -> that comes from the Latin, either “carne levare” (take away meat) or “carne vale” (meat, farewell!)
(Die) Fastnacht -> “die Fastenzeit naht” (Lent is approaching) oder “die (letzte) Nacht vor dem Fasten” (the (last) night before Lent)
(Der) Fasching -> from the medieval “Fastenschank” (serving of drinks), the last serving of alcoholic drinks before Lent

For me personally it is Fasching! But I will use “Karneval” here because it is used nationally in Germany and is also close to the English “carnival”.

Straßenkarneval in Würzburg | Foto: Robert Behrendt
street carnival in Würzburg | Photo: Robert Behrendt


Regionality: How significant the carnival is depends very much on the region. Most are predominantly Catholic regions where a strong carnival culture has developed and maintained. It is particularly popular in the Rhineland (Cologne, Dusseldorf, Aachen, Bonn, Mainz and others). But it is celebrated everywhere, although there is not the same intensity everywhere.

“meeting carnival”, “street carnival” and “party carnival”:
Classically you can distinguish between meeting carnival and street carnival. The meetings (“Karnevals-Sitzung”) are special indoor events organized by carnival societies. The street carnival takes place outside and in bars. However, there are also organized events such as the carnival parades or the “town hall storming” (Rathaussturm), in which the fools symbolically take power in the city. Then there are also carnival parties in various forms, be it in bars, clubs, in schools or private.

Carnival Societies (Karnevalsgesellschaften): These are associations whose members are passionate about celebrating carnivals and, above all, organizing events.

Carnival meeting (Karnevals-Sitzungen):: They are organized by carnival societies. You have a large, decorated hall full of mostly costumed guests. There are several artists, comedians and dance groups, that perform on a stage. This “Sitzung” is chaired by a session president and the Elferrat. Everything is hilarious, yet there is an ironic serious facade in the process reminiscent of a member meeting of a serious organization. As so often, it is a parody of otherwise serious gatherings. At carnival time, many meetings of the big and well-known clubs are televised. But if you really want to experience it, you have to be there in person. The humor on such sessions is usually not very intellectual, but it’s just about the fun.

Street carnival (Straßenkarneval ): celebrations on the street and in adjacent bars. It is laughed, drunk and celebrated especially exuberantly. Here are things that are otherwise not possible: For example, alcohol in harsh amounts, public, by day and night. Sentences that would be sexist on normal days are not worth mentioning in the street carnival. Of course it is not always that extreme. But you should be prepared to have fun when you are in the middle of the crowd.

Carnival parades (Karnevals-Umzüge): They are the highlight of the street carnival. Costumed people are walking through the city on foot or on decorated vehicles. It is also a parade of carnival societies. On the vehicles is celebrated or even current topics recorded critically and humorously. Mostly the “powerful” are mocked. The biggest is the Rose Monday parade in Cologne. But there are also small, cozy parades in many small towns.

Carnival cries (Karnevals-Rufe): At the height of the Carnival season, there is a special greeting. With him you can also show that you join in the whole bustle. They are also regionally different. The best known are “Helau” and “Alaaf”. One says for example in Cologne “Alaaf” and in Duesseldorf “Helau”. Because a kind of “enmity” exists between these two cities, one should use the correct greeting 😉S

Schwäbisch-Alemannische Fasnet: Independent, original carnival in southwestern Germany. The elements of the “modern”, Rhineland carnival are not here consciously.

typical food:
(similar to donuts)

As I mentioned before, the street carnival is sometimes rough. Here is a quote from an opinion article by Dagmar Rosenfeld, editor-in-chief of WELT:

Carnival will answer the question of how far we go if we let ourselves go. Precisely because on the great days some principles are overruled, they reveal how stable and equal our society is. And that it is so stable, that it preserves decency even in indecency.

Dagmar Rosenfeld

historical meaning

Carnival is the time before the Christian Lent until Easter. The basic forms of the festival in Germany go back to the Middle Ages. Previously, when Lent was still strictly for everyone, all supplies of animal food and alcoholic beverages had to be “used up” until Lent. So it was celebrated a really dissolute party, before fasting was 40 days. In addition, there were still very ancient times customs that should scare away the winter. These are temporally collapsed. As a result, a hilarious party with masks, fairings, etc. has developed. It was also a time when in a few days the “world conditions” were reversed. The servants became masters and vice versa. The “fools” (“Narren”) took power. That is also the reason why there are symbolic “carnival-storms” of the town halls in Germany. Many elements are also from the 19th century. The soldiers were parodied with their uniforms, with their step and discipline. It started with hidden mockery of the Napoleonic occupation troops in the Rhineland. Then to the Prussians, who after the war of liberation against the French in many countries now had the shots. That’s why the traditional stage dances, uniforms, etc. look like military: it’s a parody of the military!


11.11. (November 11th): Beginning of the carnival season. Historically, because there was a Lent before Christmas in early Christian times. Here the town halls are stormed.

February / March: Events and splendid meetings of the clubs take place here.

Closer carnival days: The right Carnival days take place just before Lent, so at a fixed distance from Easter. Because Easter depends on the lunar calendar, which does not quite agree with the solar calendar (365 days), Easter and therefore Carnival fall each year to different dates in the months of February and March.

  • Weiberfastnacht/Weiberfasching: Thursday before Ash Wednesday (Aschermittwoch). This is where the street carnival begins.
  • “Carnival Friday”, “Carnival Saturday” and “Carnival Sunday” -> the weekend before, many parties are celebrated
  • Rose Monday (Rosenmontag) -> The “highlight” of the carnival. Here the famous Rosenmontagszug takes place in Cologne
  • Shrove Tuesday (Faschingsdienstag)
  • Ash Wednesday (Aschermittwoch) -> Here only the ashes remain of the whole festival and it is over). It is interesting that traditionally the parties organize a “political Ash Wednesday”. It’s about talking to your own people and criticizing the political opponent particularly hard.

Ash Wednesday is the beginning of Christian Lent, which runs until Holy Thursday / Easter. Lent takes 40 days but Sundays are excluded. Lent is traditionally about giving up meat. But in the present day many believing Christians are above all concerned with the symbol. For example, alcohol, sweets etc. are not used. According to a representative survey in 2017, 11% of the population in Germany fast in Christian Lent. This origin is not that significant anymore.

No carnival day is a public holiday. Rose Monday and Shrove Tuesday are in some areas but days on which the companies release their employees.

small glossary:

  • “fünfte Jahreszeit” (“fifth season”) -> this is another name of the carnival (the time from November 11th to Ash Wednesday)
  • “Karnevalshochburg” (“Carnival stronghold”) -> where the carnival is particularly strongly rooted
  • “Jeck” / “Narr” / “Narren” (“Fool” / “Fools”) -> Expressions for people celebrating Carnival. You can also use “jeck” as adjective: you can describe it as cheerful, witty, in party mood.


In Germany, it’s usually pretty neat. The carnival, however, is a “state of emergency” and “organized loss of control”. There are people who hate it and others who love it.

If you want to join in a tip: you should know if you are in the area where you say “Karneval” or “Fasching”, or something else. And what the regional exclamation is: For example, “Helau” or “Alaaf”. You do not have to dress up consuming, something colorful is enough. Otherwise, only: good mood!

Germany for beginners politics and society

Recommendations for movies and series

Here I would like to list some important or recommendable German films, series and television series. Background: Until 1933, the German film had world renown. Today he is not that important internationally. But there are still good films and some good series that are fun and also provide an insight into the country.


Das Leben der Anderen (2006)
Drama, History
Surveillance of the GDR state security in the cultural scene of East Berlin, playing in the 1980s

Die Blechtrommel (1979)
novel adaptation
Story about an unusual child in Germany of the 1930s and 1940s, interesting with a look into this time.

Der Untergang (2004)
Drama, History
well made film about the last days of Hitler and the last fights in Berlin Especially as it shows a part of the man of Adolf Hitler (based on the memories of his secretary)

Das Boot (1981)
War drama, thriller
Submarine war in the Atlantic in World War II, action and experiences of the crew.

Film review by The Critical Drinker

Baader-Meinhof-Komplex (2008)
Drama, about the RAF, left-wing terrorist group in the 70s.

Eberhofer movies (Rita Falk – novel adaptations)
Mixture of comedy and Bavarian homeland crime. Attention! They speak often Bavarian …
– Dampfnudelblues (2013)
– Winterkartoffelknödel (2014) – Winterkartoffelknödel – OFFIZIELLER TRAILER
– Schweinskopf al dente (2016) – SCHWEINSKOPF AL DENTE – offizieller Trailer
– Grießnockerlaffäre (2017)
– Sauerkrautkoma (2018) – SAUERKRAUTKOMA – offizieller Trailer

Lammbock (2001)
Comedy. Two friends who run a pizza delivery service in Würzburg, but also grow marijuana.

Good Bye, Lenin! (2003)
Comedy in which a son of his mother fooled over years that the GDR persists.

Sonnenallee (1999)
Comedy, about the life of East Berlin youths in the 1970s

Animation, comedy with North German humor, based on the Werner comics (for adults)
– Werner – Beinhart (1990) – Werner Beinhart Fankanal
– Werner – Das muss Kesseln!!! (1996) – Werner 2 – Das muß kesseln!!! | Trailer
– Werner – Volles Rooäää!!! (1999)
– Werner – Gekotzt wird später! (2003) – Werner 4 – Gekotzt wird später! | Trailer
– Werner – Eiskalt (2011) – Werner Eiskalt – Trailer

Herr Lehmann (2003)
Tragic comedy, set in 1989 in West Berlin

Berlin Calling (2008)
Film about a Berlin DJ. The main role is played by the real Berlin DJ Paul Kalkbrenner – Berlin Calling (2008) – Trailer


Babylon Berlin
Series about the Berlin of the 20s

Türkisch für Anfänger (Serie, Comedy)
Comedyserie über eine Deutsch-Türkische Patchwork-Familie

Der Tatortreiniger
Comedy series about a “crime scene cleaner”, so someone who professionally cleans the place after a crime.

4 Blocks
Drama series, about Arab clans (Mafia) in Berlin.

Tatort (English “crime scene”):
Crime series with 90-minute episodes, which comes on Sundays 20:15 clock in the first German television.
It is the most popular thriller series in the German-speaking countries. There are a number from Munich, Berlin, Dortmund, Dresden, Frankfurt, Stuttgart, Kiel, Freiburg, Wiesbaden and even more (including Vienna, Austria and Lucerne, Switzerland). There are then about one to four crime scenes in one city per year.
The crime scenes should be realistic and comprehensible. In recent years, there have also been some “experimental” crime scenes that play a little bit with reality. In addition, current topics are taken up.
The character of the rows is always a little different. Often, the personality of the investigators and the interaction of the teams in the foreground. There are also series that are rather comedies: Münster and Weimar “Tatorte”.
The basic concept is always the same: 1. There is a murder (typically someone dies in the first few minutes). 2. The murderer is identified (it is typical that he / she is not determined until the very end).
The setting, so the places, the characters timeless and current topics but very diverse. There are also some fan clubs and people meet for a common “Tatort-watching”. How well known and popular the “crime scene” is, you can also see in the detail of the Wikipedia article:

Polizeiruf 110 (English “Police call”):

In the GDR, the “Polizeiruf 110” was produced as a counterpart to the West German “Tatort” since 1971. (Tatort: Start 1970 in West Germany). The police riot films are also thrillers, but in the GDR period there are differences in details and peculiarities, the reasons lie in the completely different state system. In contrast to the “western”Tatort there was usually no murder, but it was “minor” crimes enlightened and it was more the police work in the foreground and less action.
After the reunification, the “Polizeiruf” has become more akin to the Tatort, but it still exists, especially in East German cities.
When the police call I can recommend the from the city of Rostock (shot since 2010). Also the police Munich with “Hanns von Meuffels” (2011-2018) are recommended.

Documentary / docutainment

In terms of documentary I can’t recommend anything special, because there is a lot of interesting things around. In addition, it depends heavily on your own interests. I only introduce a few documentation series here.

Terra X
The documentary brand of ZDF. There you find well made documentaries on really many topics.
Terra X (ZDF, Mediathek)
Die Geschichte des Essens (1/3) – Vorspeise
Ritter (1/3): Helden aus Eisen (Entstehung des Rittertums) 
Ein Tag in Berlin 1926  -> Experience the life in Berlin, in the year 1926
Kanada – Schatz der Kälte
Russland von oben (1/5)  -> “Russia from above” about landscape highlights and the people who live there

Also interesting:
ZDF-Produktionen in 360° 

Phoenix “History

Phoenix “dokumentationen

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