Gengenbach's carnival called „Fasend“, not „Fasnet“ as in most of the Black Forest and beyond. Tradition dates back to an event of the year 1499, when some citizens of the town decorated a big rabble as the first jester tree and did a noisy run through the streets. Persecuted by the magistrate who wanted to imprison them, they fled across the border into the territory of the abbey. The abbot showed more understanding for carnival fun and obtained an amnesty. That was the beginning of the street carnival in Gengenbach.
The history of the present Fasend, however, begins with the foundation of the first carnival club in 1890 and the foundation of the jester guild in 1925. The main figures, the witch and the Spättlehansel, were designed only in the 1930's.
The Fasend begins three and a half weeks prior to Ash Wednesday when a large crowd in Hemdglunker (white nightshirts), equipped with drums and brass instruments and everything that makes noise, assembles outside Niggelturm to awaken the Schalk, the symbolic figure of Gengenbach's Fasend, who is sleeping in the tower during the rest of the year. When he finally wakes up, he is accompanied to the town hall where he takes the keys and the government. The following weekends see some indoor events until the High Days begin.
On the eve of Fasend (Wednesday before Greasy Thursday) the witches set up a giant broom stick and the Spättle a giant rabble in front of the town hall. All streets and all pubs are busy. In the evening, masked groups are around in the pubs to tell the news of the year and mock people.
The event which is of most interest to visitors is the main parade on Sunday, starting 2 p.m. The best spot to watch it is surely the main square by the town hall - come early because it will be crowded. Gengenbach is small, so they do the round twice. In addition to the members of the guild in ther traditional Häs there are the guilds from the small villages around participating, also one or more guest guilds from another town, and clubs, companies and groups from Gengenbach and around with big carts and imaginative costumes.
Schalk is the character who symbolizes the carnival of Gengenbach. His home is Niggelturm, one of the towers of the fortification, where he sleeps all year until he is awakened three weeks before the High Days to start the carnival season. There is no Fasend without him. His costume is that of an old court jester, Till-Eulenspiegel-type, in dark red. His equipment consists of a lantern and a Marotte, a sceptre with miniature masks of witch and Spättlehansel. He takes a leading role in the guild's events and marches at the beginning of the parades. In the evening of Shrove Tuesday, just before midnight, he is once more banned into Niggelturm and goes to sleep for 11 months until the next Fasend begins.
Bott is the city bailiff. Originally the one who was to persecute and arrest the misbehaved jesters in the event of 1499, he has been adopted by the guild as part of their staff. He is the moderator during the guild evenings and leads the parades together with the Schalk.
The witch is not, as many may think, a traditional figure in the Alemannic Fastnacht. The first witch mask and costume appeared only in 1933 in Offenburg. Shortly after, Gengenbach got a witch figure, too. Together with the Spättlehansel the witch is the main Häs of the jester guild. All witches must be men. They are always good for some fun...
The Gengenbacher witch mask has a rather smooth face compared to most other witch types, and a flat headscarf without any wooden structures underneath. So they are quite easy to recognize. They can often be met outside Gengenbach at jester meetings or on parades on Carnival Monday when they have no event at home.
Spättlehansel is a Häs for women and men. It is made from hundreds of U-shaped pieces of fabric (Spättle) in all colours and patterns sewn on an overall like roof tiles. The wooden mask is a laughing face. Small children wear the Häs withour mask. Despite the friendly look, however, the Spättlehansel are not entriely harmless. They tease spectatours with extending scissors, which are great for grabbing hats and caps, or with Saublodere (pig bladders).
Klepperle area typical tradition in Gengenbach: Small flat pieces of wood, a pair per hand, are clattered in a certain rhythm. Operating them requires light-fingeredness and most of all practice, practice, practice, but about every kid in town and every adult who grew up in Gengenbach is capable of this. It is an activity for children and teenagers, at the age of 18 they have to leave the groups and move on, for example become witches or Spättlehansel in the adult guild.
The group of the Klepperlisbuben is for boys only. Their uniform are blue work shirts, red bandanas and black woollen hats. A long row if them, sorted by height, marches in the parades performing their song and rhythm.
Girls are good at this skill, too, and limiting participation to boys was considered unfair. Hence the group of the Klepperlismaidli came into existence, and they walk in the parade and perform just like the boys. Their dress is a dark blue skirt with apron, white blouse and colourful vest, red bandana, white stockings and dark boots, and a headband that matches the pattern of the vest.
Lumbehund are big and fat so they can hardly move. Their clothing is stuffed with hay until they are round as a barrel. The witches make fun of them, push them over, roll them on the ground, sit on them, step on them... Thanks to the hay they are not hurt, but this costume cannot at all be comfortable. It is sweating hot inside. And then there is another problem... the Fasend involves drinking alcohol, lots of it, and there are various theories how to deal with the inevitable disposal of superfluous body fluid when you are stuck inside a bundle of hay.
A young man who wants to become an active member of the witch guild has to be a Lumbehund in the first year. It is sort of an initiation rite (boys, eh!) and only after this he will be allowed to have himself a witch Häs made. I think they are all glad they have to do this only once in their jester career...
Guilds from the surrounding villages and hamlets participate in the parade. The Strohhansel from Strohbach are always there. Strohbach is a hamlet in a small side valley, now part of the township of Gengenbach. Until the 1970s the village had no own carnival activities, but then a bunch of inhabitants decided it was time to start a guild. The name translates to „Straw Creek“, so the topic for their jester figure was obvious. The cute Strohhansel was presented for the first time in 1981. Head and jacket are covered in straw. The mask presents a friendly smiling face.
The guild appears regularly in Gengenbach and other parades in and around the Kinzig valley. Their „trademark“ is the little motor cart which seats one driver and up to three passengers. The miniature tractor loaded with sheaves of grain leads the group and carries the sign of the guild.
A single figure is the Unkrut („weed“), who is the enemy of the good plants and is fended off by the others with sticks and forks
The jester figure of the Ewerderfler („those from the upper village“, i.e. the quarter outside Obertor gate) is a product of the late 1990s. Named Rotzlöffel („Ragamuffin“), he is exactly that - a naughty boy who likes to play tricks. Better not trust his friendly funny face too much;-) The ragamuffins also have developed their own technique how to do boat cruises.
Just like the witches of Gengenbach, new members have to be Lumpenhund during their first Fasend season before they are allowed to don the Häs. The second photos shows two of them, stuffed with hay so they can hardly move and made fun of by the older members.
Then follow the private groups, companies, clubs and so on. Most of them come with carts, some small, others so huge that they hardly make it round the corners. These carts are amazingly decorated and turned into fantastic vehicles, jungles, fairytale castles, pirate ships or whatever strikes the groups' imagination. These are new every year. Here is a photo gallery...