Karneval History

KARNEVAL is a season, not just an event, the main purpose of which is to have fun before the serious time of Lent starts
1. What is Karneval in Germany?


1. What is Karneval in Germany?

Karneval goes by many names depending on what area of Europe you are from: Fasching, Karneval, Fastnacht, Carnival and Mardi Gras and are pre-Lenten festivities celebrated in grand style in mostly the predominantly catholic regions of the German-speaking countries.

The Rhineland has its Karneval, Austria, Bavaria and Berlin calls theirs Fasching, and the German Swiss celebrate Fastnacht. Carnival and Mardi Gras are celebrated by countries like Brazil and in the United States in New Orleans.

Karneval in Germany began in the 16th century to allow commoners to mock the monarchy and politicians without fear of retribution , but it really took off in the 19th and 20th centuries. Therefore many “official” Karneval costumes copy some of those old official uniforms and dresses.

German Karneval in North America

2. When is it Celebrated?

karneval in germany

2. When is it Celebrated?

Karneval is nicknamed “The 5th Season” in Germany and starts on 11.11 at 11:11am and lasts until Ash Wednesday
(which is in February or March of the following year).

In Germany, the core time of the Karneval season are the two (2) weeks before Ash Wednesday. Some areas of
Germany will basically shut down during the last week before Ash Wednesday – where people will party for
4-5 days in a row at street parties, bars, events, and in their homes.

On Rosenmontag (the Monday before Ash Wednesday) in the City of Köln (Cologne), over 1.5 million people
will turn out to celebrate and to watch the 3 mile long Karneval parade. That same day, one could travel away
from Köln and find other cities where 200,000 – 500,000 people have turned out for festivities in a particular
city. The fact is Karneval is THE BIG EVENT during winter time in Germany (source).


Karneval in Koln Germany


3. How is it Celebrated?

Karneval is a time of wild celebrations, and the western part of Germany especially (North Rhine-Westphalia and Rhineland-Palatinate), is famous for Karneval celebrations with parades and costume balls and hand-made costumes, and pranks of all sorts!

Karneval in Germany

Here in North America the events are usually dances featuring Costume Parties or Fancy Dressed Galas (or both, like GAMGA) and sometimes with special themes depending on what club you attend (Find a Club Near You).

The program will have a series of formal steps, like marching in of the Elferrat and the royalties, greetings of guests and giving medals to honorees. But this is mixed with jokes and dance performances that often even involve the audience. The music is a collection of fun Oktoberfest & Karneval party songs with a healthy dose of other music we all love to dance too.

The important part is you, the friends you bring, and perhaps a designated driver! Everything will be over by the next morning, and often you won’t leave until then. The evening, costumes, dancing and drinks, are meant to celebrate and enjoy the craziness and freedom of that night. You are certainly encouraged to dance – even if you can’t (you won’t be alone!) – Enjoy, this is Karneval!!! (source).

German Mardi Gras and Karneval

German Mardi Gras and Karneval


4. People and Things you will see at a Karneval Functions

Royalties-most areas have “royals” that reign over the city during the Karneval season.

The Prinz and Prinzessin (Prince and Princess)

German Mardi Gras and Karneval

Karneval in Cologne is under the reign of a Dreigestirn, consisting of the Prince, the Bauer and the Jungfrau.

Source:Lindlarer Dreigestirn 2013

Source:Lindlarer Dreigestirn 2013

The royals are surrounded by MANY “supporters” that have various functions (usually in a funny way)., e.g. there is a Prinzengarde (guard of the prince) – whose only task is to dance.

German Mardi Gras and Karneval

Elferratthe “committee of 11” are basically the organizers of the events. The Elferrat wears distinctive uniforms and – especially important – ”funny” hats.

GAMGA Elferrat

Orden (medals) – every Karneval Club creates its own medal for each season.

Karneval Orden Example

Performances: Show dance performances during the events – Some performances can be really artistic while others are just slapstick. The performers are all amateurs, only performing during the season (but practicing all year long!).

German Mardi Gras and Karneval

German Mardi Gras and Karneval

Costume Contests. You can’t have a Mardi Gras party without costumes!

German Mardi Gras and Karneval

German Mardi Gras and Karneval

German Mardi Gras and Karneval






The German American Mardi Gras Association represents the German American Karneval Clubs in the USA and Canada.

Karneval/Mardi Gras has a long tradition in Germany and is celebrated by millions of people there. Our goal is to give people in North America that same kind of feeling, the fun and the freedom of German Karneval, give them a place to celebrate the “fifth season” in America and keep a bit of German culture alive. All are welcome, no need to be German!

GAMGA celebrates one time per year an America wide event – the GAMGA Gala in Las Vegas-  with visitors from all over the world.

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