Fasching, or Karneval in German, is considered to be the 'fifth season' and is their answer to Mardi Gras. Colourful costumes and parties in the streets, what more could you want? It’s crazy time!
The Fasching season begins in earnest after Christmas and builds up to the few days before Lent. There is a season of balls, from simple black and white to colourful masked balls. However it is the few days before Lent begins that the celebrations spill out into the streets and the citizens of Munich begin to party and this is what I know as Fasching. This festival proves there is more to Munich than Oktoberfest.
The Sunday before Lent is family day. The streets are filled with families and excited children in fancy dress costumes of all varieties stand waiting for the parade to come by. One of the best viewpoints is in Karolinenplatz en route to the Lowenbrauekeller. The atmosphere is buzzing as children wait for the sweets and treats that are thrown from the colourful floats into the crowds. The noise of the bands, drum beats and chants from the performers fill the air to let you know the parade is on its way. Several thousand locals and visitors alike will gather for the parade that lasts for up to two hours.
On Fasching Dienstag (Shrove Tuesday) the shops in the city centre close early (1pm) and then the party really begins. Festivities begin mid morning and carry on until early evening. You are best to find your vantage point around the Viktualienmarkt by 11am as things start to get busy from then. It is estimated that over 20,000 gather around the Viktualienmarkt and neighbouring Marienplatz to listen to live music, eat, drink and be merry.
The stalls that usually sell fruit and vegetables will today sell beer and hot food. You can see the vans behind the stalls that look like supermarket delivery vans but instead they are a huge beer barrel inside. Very organised! All the local beers are on offer as well as the local bubbly and what are normally small ice cream carts are today selling miniatures of schnapps and Jagermeister. The smells of hot sausages and roast pork sandwiches waft through the air, delicious and just what is needed to soak up the beer.
The crowds are dressed in a variety of costumes from Elvis, to clowns to chickens, you can opt for a simple mask or face paint to feel part of the party, and I recommend that you do. The department stores are filled with masks and accessories for you to buy from only a few euros. Part of the fun is just seeing the effort that some people make with their costumes. You will also see some young men with backpacks on their backs – but look closely – it is a small barrel of beer with a straw leading to their mouth!
The atmosphere is electric. People are singing and dancing and really enjoying themselves. In the centre of the Viktualienmarkt is a stage with dancers, music and a DJ that keeps the crowd going. Stand side by side with the locals and join in the singing, from local favourites like 'Viva Colonia' (you will quickly learn the chorus) to well known songs such as 'Hey Baby' and 'Country Roads'.
I love Fasching - it is like nothing you have experienced before; the buzz of the city is fantastic. Look out for people selling bags of confetti that get thrown all over everyone and everywhere by the crowds. Despite the large crowds and the high volumes of alcohol there is very little trouble, but the police are on hand in large numbers if needed.
- Remember it is February and even if it is sunny it will turn cold later on so wear layers
- Get there early as police can close down the market if there are too many people trying to get in
- Some places ask you for a few euros entrance fee but this is usually redeemable against your first drinks
- Try the variety of doughnuts on offer that are the local equivalent to British-style pancakes
Where to eat and sleep
Stay in a centrally located hotel such as the Holiday Inn on Hochstrasse, which is only one underground stop away from the action and then you don’t need to spend a lot of time and money travelling. The hotel has been recently refurbished and being part of a chain often has deals on offer. Alternatively, a favourite of ours is the Torbrau. The rooms are very clean and the staff very friendly, and it is conveniently located just a few minutes walk from Marienplatz.
For meals I would recommend the Ratskeller (www.ratskeller.com) in Marienplatz, the Hofbrauehaus (particularly the Braeustuberl on the first floor; www.hofbraeuhaus.de), or Augustiner Grossgaststätte on Neuhauserstrasse. All serve delicious home cooked food such as crispy wiener schnitzel, steaks cooked to order, juicy and tender, or spicy goulash with noodles. Main courses are typically between 12 and 20 euros. For a lunchtime snack try goulash soup or a salad.
Some restaurants offer daily specials for Fasching and on Ash Wednesday the specials will always be fish. English menus are available.
Whilst you are in Munich you must have coffee and cake. Highly recommended is Woerners café, (www.woerners.de) owned by the same family for five generations. Located in Marienplatz it is a great place to relax and watch what is going on in the historic square that is the centre of Munich.For more information on Munich and it's festivals see www.insidersmunich.com