Fastnacht for Beginners

I have lived here for 30 years and I am still learning about this cultural fascination (bordering on fanaticism) with Fastnacht. I don’t know when it starts or finishes. Somebody moves the dates every year!

“Switzerland is boring. The Swiss have no sense of humor”. If you heard someone say this they have never been to Fastnacht (Carnival) in the Rhein Valley or Liechtenstein. It may not be as famous as the Morgenstraich in Basel but many Swiss, southern Germans and Austrians from Vorarlberg are under the influence of the confetti packed Rhein Valley Fastnacht.
I have lived here for 30 years and I am still learning about this cultural fascination (bordering on fanaticism) with Fastnacht.  I don’t know when it starts or finishes.  Somebody moves the dates every year!
I have sent my kids to school and 20 minutes later they returned saying, „Mama, don’t you know what today is?  It’s Rosa Montag, there is no school today. Everybody knows that.” Is this another one of the unwritten Swiss laws? I know about manic Mondays, black Mondays, I actually owned a Monday car, but I have never heard of a pink one.  I recognized that „ohhhhhh mother look in the eyes of my darling children.  You know the one, as if you were standing naked in the middle of the Bahnhofstrasse.  „MOTHER not Rosa, rose – like the flower.”  My mistake but I am learning.

Fastnacht Lesson 1 – Maskenball (Costume Ball)

My first Maskenball (costume ball) was also a mistake – a big mistake. My quiet mouse of a friend said, “It’s your first year in Switzerland you have to go with us to the Maskenball Saturday night.” She added excitedly, “Fastnacht is so much fun; I am taking two weeks’ vacation.”
 I was amazed, “For what?”
“To party! The next two weeks are jam packed with costume parties, parades and concerts but the best thing about Fastnacht is - anything goes.”  Heidi chimed in, “JA, anything! What happens in Fastnacht stays in Fastnacht. Come on, we’ve organized everything, all you have to do is show up.”

I wished I hadn’t.  I had to dress up as a XXL pregnant bee.  I had horrible metal strainers fastened over my eyes, pipe cleaners sticking out of both sides my head, wings a meter wide and a huge pillow wrapped around my stomach. It was so hot my blood was boiling and I hadn’t even left the house.
We and hundreds of other masked, polyester clad fools squeezed ourselves into our first stop on the required restaurant trail.  On a normal day the Bahnhöfli restaurant radiated coziness; during Fastnacht it closely resembled an overfilled ashtray. The rival Guggamusik (music groups) had gathered inside and were competing to see whose music was louder and more off key. I later learned the more off-key the better, they make fun of music as well.
We squeezed down a staircase the size of a birth canal and into the fire-trap below. I was so busy contemplating the uninhibited and inebriated party goers and wondered if these were the same reserved Swiss I had come to know that I lost my friends in the mob. I did the only logical thing I knew, I screamed Heidi’s name. 
She turned and sprinted towards me with cheetah speed, “Great, help is on the way”, I thought. Wrong. My mouse of a friend smacked me right between the strainers.  How was I to know that those see-through strainers were meant to be a disguise and no one was supposed to know who we were until after midnight?
 I didn’t know anybody before midnight – without their masks. 
My catalogue of cultural mistakes needs mainframes of storage, the chapter on Fastnacht is a long chapter. Find out what I learned about decorations in my next Fastnacht lesson.

Copyright Vicki Gabathuler, 2012


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