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FASTNACHT IN THE BLACK FOREST
2001 /FEBRUARY

Throughout the Middle Ages the vast forests of Germany were filled with menace for rural people. Witches lived in the dark desolate valleys, the devil in many guises put fear into people, and the hobgoblins who concealed themselves in nooks and corners performed numerous mischievous deeds as well as bringing the dreaded winter. Towards the end of the long harsh winters, whose deprivation had left them exhausted and despondent, people dressed up in strange costumes in order to scare away the hobgoblins and so speed up the arrival of spring.Known as Fastnacht, this rite has been celebrated for long centuries, gradually becoming metamorphosed into a popular carnival. In the city of Freiburg, set in the beautiful Black Forest region of Germany, Fastnacht remains a vigorous and colourful tradition.

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FASTNACHT IN THE BLACK FOREST
2001 /FEBRUARY
Freiburg, with a population of nearly two hundred thousand, faces the forest on the one hand and the Rhine valley on the other. The spectacular countryside around is perfect for hiking, with its many small lakes and green valleys with scattered traditional farmhouses.

The Freiburg region is also where Germany's finest wines are produced. But it was Fastnacht which had brought us here, and after a brief tour of the city, we set out for the village of Buchheim to see the preparations for the carnival.This colourful festival is not only intended to scare away the evil beings thought to live in the forest, but also the mice which plague the farmers, the vine beetles which destroy the grape crop, and all other real and mythical creatures with which the farmers have to contend.The idea is that people disguise themselves in even larger and more fearsome forms than the pests themselves, so that they leave communities in peace.
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FASTNACHT IN THE BLACK FOREST
2001 /FEBRUARY
Until the following winter at least! The vine growers, for instance, dress up as huge vine beetles, and form one company in the parade.The people of another village troubled by mosquitoes from the nearby marshes dress as giant mosquitoes! Groups dressed as witches are numerous, such as those of the village of Kirchzarten.

All the companies have their own rules and regulations passed down from father to son over the centuries, and in time have become like clubs, whose members compete with the others to create the most impressive costumes each Fastnacht.The Company of Freiburg Mice is one of the oldest of all. Another famous company of the city is the Herdern Lalli Company, whose members dress up as comical characters who stick out their tongues. The object of these absurd antics seems to be suspension of the normal code of etiquette which prevails for the rest of the year. Just on this one occasion people can defy ordinary polite behaviour, committing vulgarities like sticking on'sk tongue out or picking on'si nose in public.
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FASTNACHT IN THE BLACK FOREST
2001 /FEBRUARY
When the Company of Nose Pickers with their amusing masks parades down the street, the crowds find it entertaining instead of reacting with the ordinary disapproval. The character of the various companies reveals that an event whose roots lie in purging the evils of life has in time acquired entertaining and festive features. Young men in the companies attempt to seize girls who take their fancy, and witches with brooms in hand chase small children or stuff straw down the necks of grown men. The spirit of fun prevails.
The Fastnacht societies begin organising entertainments and celebrations in early spring, and these are followed in the evenings by dances. These events are marked by jokes, fun and laughter, as the dancers ridicule anything and everything. Wine, beer and conversation flow freely. These entertainments reach their climax on the final five days before Lent, serving as an opportunity to enjoy all the excesses frowned upon by both divine and worldly authorities and briefly relax all the strict rules imposed by both before the time of self-denial begins.
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FASTNACHT IN THE BLACK FOREST
2001 /FEBRUARY
For those five days everyone can play the village idiot to his heat'sg content! And this liberty makes it possible to criticise everything that people chafe against, particularly the system and the ruling classes. The phenomenon is so deeply entrenched in local custom that opposition is useless. The Thursday before Lent is known as 'schmutziger Donnerstag' or 'greasy Thursday' from the fact that fried pastries are traditionally eaten. That day the Narren or madmen occupy the council house and take possession of the key to the city. No one can stop them! Then for five days the city remains under the rule of the madmen, who can mock everything with impunity.

On Monday the parade of all the companies takes place, and on Ash Wednesday the Lent fast begins. Over the forty days until Easter no animal or dairy products of any kind, including meat, sausage, eggs, cheese and milk are eaten. Fish, however, is permitted.
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FASTNACHT IN THE BLACK FOREST
2001 / FEBRUARY

Fastnacht is today celebrated throughout the Rhine valley from Munich to Freiburg. Although no one is any longer scared of the witches of the mediaeval forests or of mice nibbling the crops, Fastnacht remains a vehicle of humorous social criticism and a highly entertaining event for participants and spectators alike.

 

 

 

* Murat Kucuk is a journalist

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