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All You Need to Know about the Elfter Elfter – Start of Karneval Posted by on Nov 12, 2016 in Culture, Current Events, Holidays, People, Things to do, Traditions, Travel

On the Elfter Elfter (eleventh of the eleventh), Carnival officially started around the world, including Germany. But what do Germans even call their Carnival? And what happens on Elfter Elfter? Find out here: 5 things to know!

1. Different names for the same

Whether you call it Carnival or Mardi Gras – you mean the same thing. This is also the case in Germany. There is FaschingKarneval and Fastnacht. These words all refer to the same period before Lent, but have different meanings. They are used in different parts of German-speaking areas, but it is hard to categorize. For example, Northern Germany celebrates Karneval, but you will also hear the term Fasching, which is widespread. But what they all mean? Let’s have a closer look at each one of them.

1.  Fasching

Fasching is a word that originates in the 13th century. It is derived from the Germanic vaschanc or vaschang, which in modern German means Fastenschank (literally: Lenting bar). This is the last time to get an alcoholic drink before Lent – there is plenty of that during FaschingFasten is also the German verb for the English “to fast”.

2. Karneval

The term Karneval has a much younger origin: it dates back to the 17th century. The earliest Carnevale were held in medieval Venice with parades and masquerade balls, and from there spread across Europe, also to Germany. Where exactly it comes from is unclear, but most likely comes from the Latin carne levare (“remove meat”). This tuned into carnelevale and later Karneval, Carnaval or Carnival. The German term was not always spelled with a K, and some associations still write the word using a C (thus: Carneval).

3. Fastnacht

You might think, seeing the word, that Fastnacht just means “fasting night”. Done. But that wouldn’t make sense: Carnival is just the night that you don’t fast just yet! The last night to still go crazy and enjoy the excess before Lent kicks in. Here’s the explanation: the Fast in Fastnacht comes from the Old German word fasen (“to be foolish, silly, wild). So Fastnacht is the night to go crazy and wild. Now that makes more sense!

2. Die fünfte Jahreszeit

There are four Jahreszeiten (seasons) in a year: Frühling (Spring), Sommer (Summer), Herbst (Autumn, Fall) and Winter (Winter). But in Germany, we have a fünfte Jahreszeit (fifth season). This is Carnival season! It officially started yesterday, on November 11 at 11:11 am! Above a video of the opening in Karnevalshauptstadt (Carnival capital) Köln (Cologne) yesterday. It ends when Carnival ends, officially on Fastnacht (Shrove Tuesday) at the end of February. The Elfter Elfter is probably chosen as a day for the start of the season because 11 is the magische Zahl (magic number) that is used a lot in Karneval. However, the real Carnival preparations only begin after Neujahr (New Year’s Day).

The 11/11 does not go without a party, though! People already dress up in the most creative and beautiful Kostüme (costumes).

3. How to behave during the fünfte Jahreszeit

This video gives some tips on how to behave during the fünfte Jahreszeit and during Karneval. Most are self-explanatory, but not all. Here some explanations!

1. Männer, lasst die gute Krawatte zuhause!

During Altweiberfastnacht on the Thursday before Karneval, women cut off the Krawatten (ties) of men. If you are in Düsseldorf or Köln, it is assumed that you know of this tradition, and so even if your Krawatte is cut off, it is not necessarily the case that you will be compensated for the damage – so if you wear a tie on that day, make sure it is an old one, not a gute (good, expensive one). So this is a wise tip: Männer, lasst die gute Krawatte zuhause! (Men, leave the good tie at home!)

2. Bützen, aber mit bedacht

One of the things done a lot during Karneval is kissing on the cheek. The Rheinisch word for kissing is bützen, and so bützen, aber mit bedacht (kissing, but with caution) refers to traditional kissing on the cheek, but not going overboard and making your partner angry 🙂

3. Kindern beim Zoch die Kamelle wegschnappen

The Zoch during Karneval is the Karnevalszug (Carnival procession). During this Zoch, people shout for Kamelle, as you can hear in the video above. Kamelle are originally Karamellbonbons (caramel sweets), but nobody really wants those anymore. Nowadays, Kamelle refers to any kind of sweets, be it chocolate pralines, or even something sweet as a Blumenstrauß (flower bouquet). The participants in the parade throw the sweets into the crowd. So, Kindern beim Zoch die Kamelle wegschnappen is not nice, because it means: “to snatch away the Kamelle from the children during the Zoch.”

4. Alaaf, ihr Jecken!

Alaaf means as much as “Köln über alles” (Cologne above anything), and so it is associated with Karneval in Köln. Helau is a call associated with Düsseldorf (as in the video about Krawatten above), and so be careful where you shout what! Above is German comedian Stefan Raab in New York, where he plays Carnival songs and sings Kölle alaaf, alaaf. Sehr witzig (very funny)!

Jecken is kölsch (the Cologne dialect) for Närre (fools), which is what the Carnival revelers are called.

Do you celebrate Carnival? Would you like to celebrate it in Germany? What are peculiar Carnival traditions in your region? Let me know in the comments below!

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About the Author:Sten

Hi! I am Sten, and I am half Dutch and half German. I was on exchange in the United States, and I really enjoyed that year! So in that sense, I kind of have three nationalities... I love all of them!


  1. Carmel Grima:

    Carnevale is made up of two Italian words, carne + vale (verb;valere) and liberally translated means that the eating of meat is valid.