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Carnival down south

February 21, 2012

A winter sports paradise, the Black Forest in south-west Germany also has its own unique Carnival celebrations. The pre-Lent festivities offer plenty of fun, but there is a darker side to Carnival here, too.

Image: picture-alliance / Eibner-Pressefoto

The Black Forest is one of Germany's most popular holiday destinations - especially in winter. From December to March, the 1,500-meter-high snow-covered mountains, provide the perfect playground for winter sports, like downhill and cross-country skiing.

But, as many winter tourists have discovered, the region's picturesque villages host their own rather original celebrations at this time of year, too.

A very different Carnival

The traditional idea behind Carnival across Germany involves a week of fun celebrations in the final week before the Christian fasting period of Lent, which starts on Ash Wednesday. The focus in most regions is very much on partying.

In southern Germany, though, traditional Swabian-Alemannic Carnival festivities tend to be darker and less humorous than those in Mainz, Cologne or Dusseldorf. There is of course plenty of dancing and drinking, which is always accompanied by a few laughs. In the Black Forest, though, Carnival is more reflective of the simple life of former times.

For the people of the region, Carnival is also the time of the year when the reign of the bad spirits of the cold and bleak winter period are symbolically hunted down and expelled from the region. People often dress up as demons, witches, spirits and scary animals.

Traditions kept alive

In spite of being steeped in tradition, Black Forest Carnival celebrations are particularly popular with the younger generation. For 27-year-old Ute Hablitzel from Todtnau, the process of creating the Häs or costumes, as well as the parades and celebrations, are an annual highlight. 

Todtnau im Winter
Todtnau - a winter wonderland in south-west GermanyImage: R.Rodembusch/DW

The young proprietor of Todtnau's photo shop, dedicates her entire week to the celebrations - going from one Carnival party to the next.

Like in other parts of Germany, festivities here starts on the Thursday before Ash Wednesday. In the Todtnau region, Thursday is known as "Faißter Dunschtig." This was traditionally the last day before Lent when animals were slaughtered.

Carnival is for the young at heart

In the Thursday festivities, locals often carry the pig bladders and dress up in pyjamas - a surprising tradition for tourists. Local Benno Dörflinger says he can't explain the choice of costume. "The bladder is the only thing left over after killing the pig," he says.

People in the region dress up as demons and witchesImage: Fotolia/Michael Fritzen

As in most regions of Germany, the highlight of Carnival is the Monday parade. Accompanied by drums and brass music, and in full costume, the revellers join the loud parades that pass through the town streets. 

But onlookers should be wary here too - the masked merrymakers have been known to jump off their floats and drench unsuspecting spectators in vast amounts of confetti.

Author: Christian Hoffmann / bos
Editor: André Leslie