Have you ever visited Germany during the hights of the local carnival season?
Chances are you have not, considering the main carnival or mardi gras festivities fall either into February or March. A time when the weather is not the most inviting at all, and typically not a time seeing many international visitors. Indeed, right now we are braving freezing temperatures and an unusual amount of snow. On the other hand, all celebrations are cancelled anyway this year – you know why.
If I am totally honest, I belong to that half of Germans who do not care much about local carnival. The other half is going mads for it every year, though.
In any case, if you are interested in local cultures, Fasching (carnival) in Germany is an event that you should attempt to visit at least once.
By the way, carnival celebrations in Germany are not commonly called Fasching. It is also called Karneval or Fastnacht, but I am using the word Fasching because that’s how it is called in my family.
The history of German carnival
The earliest mentions of carnival are going back to medieval Venice where it centred around street parades, masks and masquerade balls. Over time, these customs spread to other European countries further north, including certain parts of Germany.
As I mentioned before, locally carnival is called either Fasching, Karneval or Fastnacht. Which of the names is used is actually not random but depends on the region and they also refer to slightly different traditions.
Different names and slightly different traditions aside, what is common are colourful costumes, street parades, music and people partying in the streets, bars and restaurants starting on Thursday the week before Ash Wednesday until midnight of Shrove Tuesday, when it all ends.
When and how is German Fasching taking place
Fasching (Karneval, Fastnacht) actually kicks-off on November 11th, exactly at 11.11 am and finishes the day before Ash Wednesday. However, if you are planning to visit, it will be the street celebrations that you will want to attend.
The major street parades traditionally kick-off in the week before Ash Wednesday, and festivities will culminate on Carnival Sunday, Rose Monday (Rosenmontag) and Fat Tuesday (Faschingsdienstag).
Fasching ends at midnight on Tuesday before Ash Wednesday, which is the start of the 40-day Lent season. During this period, not only alcohol but also meat, milk products and eggs are forbidden, a tradition that in old times was strictly observed.
Traditional German sweets for Carnival
Another common nominator of the German carnival season are certain foods.
The most famous are German doughnuts, locally called Krapfen, Kreppel or Berliner. It is a type of deep-fried pastry filled with jam.
Even though they are now available year-round, during the heights of Fasching, Krapfen will dominate the shelves of bakeries, cafés, and supermarkets. Alongside the classic versions sold all year (mainly those with red jam fillings or plain ones without filling), during Fasching you will find them with lots of different fillings and colourful toppings.
There are many other variations as well, and some have their origins in other countries too. One of these are apple fritters, which have their origin in Italy.
Recipe: Apple Fritters with Vanilla sauce
Ingredients – makes about four portions
For the apple fritters
4 slightly tart apples
225 g all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons sugar
300 ml milk
3 tablespoons lemon juice, freshly squeezed
500 g clarified butter or plain oil
4 tablespoons cinnamon-sugar mix
For the vanilla sauce
1 vanilla bean
10 g cornstarch
500 ml milk
3 fresh egg yolks
75 g sugar
Start with preparing the vanilla sauce.
Cut the vanilla bean in half, scrape out the pulp.
In a small bowl, add 5 tablespoons milk, egg yolks, cornstarch and sugar and whisk together until well combined.
Bring the remaining milk with the vanilla pulp to boil. Add the cronstarch mix and stir until well combined. Bring to a boil again over medium heat, stirring constantly.
Take off the heat and pour through a fine sieve. Set aside to cool.
For the apple fritters, add flour, milk, sugar, eggs and a pinch of salt in a bowl and mix together until obtaining a homogenous dough (it should still be slightly liquid, although not too much).
Peel the apples and remove the core. Cut into slices of about 1 cm and drizzle with lemon juice.
In a large, deep saucepan heat the clarified butter or oil.
Dunk the apple slices into the dough using a fork. They should be well covered with the dough.
Put the covered slices in the hot butter or oil and deep-fry from both sides until golden brown. Remove the fritters with a skimmer and dry them on a kitchen roll.
While still warm, cover the fritters with the cinnamon-sugar mix.
Serve them with the vanilla sauce.
The fritters taste best while still warm, but you can also serve them cold.