HELAU and Goodbye!

HELAU and Goodbye!



There was no more festive way we could have possibly spent our last week in Germany last month. After three years and almost four months living abroad, the raucous atmosphere of Fasching seemed to be the most fitting way for us to bid farewell to life abroad. And, as celebrations ended and made way for the somber season of Lent, so too ended our international adventures (for now!) as we transitioned back to life in the United States.

In case you need a refresher, Fasching is the German equivalent of Mardi Gras or Carnival. The very air is charged with excitement, music and Schnapps during the main Fasching period, which spans from the Thursday (the ladies’ day of Fasching) to the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday. Oddly, the main day is Monday, known as Rosenmontag.

As we’ve been fortunate enough to live in one of the two rival German Fasching capitals, we dressed up in animal onesies along with fest-goers of all ages to watch hours and hours of the parade that boldly snakes its way throughout Mainz on Rosenmontag to shouts of “Helau!” (the Fasching greeting). This was, of course, after several days of smaller warm-up parades in neighboring areas of Wiesbaden.

Parade groups and floats represented local businesses, hobby clubs, marching bands, giant heads, clowns, Swiss Güggemusik (brass bands with elaborate costumes and airbrushed facepaint), Austrian/Bavarian witches, social commentary, and political satire. As you can imagine, the last of these was brutal this year, mocking Olympic doping, American president Trump, Turkish president Erdogan, Brexit, EU leadership, and more.

Every night of the fest was a costume party in Mainz as well. We went out several times to eat Bratwurst and wander through the carnival rides and stands in the old town. One night the cover band we were listening to started playing a familiar tune that turned out to be the theme song from the 80s cartoon show Duck Tales! This turned into a medley of theme songs from similar kids’ tv shows Chip and Dale Rescue Rangers (known in Germany as Chip and Chap) and Gummy Bears. The last one got a lot of Germans singing along. After all Haribo, the main producer of gummy bear candies, is German.



Helau from Fasching in Mainz and for now, goodbye to Germany!


Many more details on Fasching can be found here:
What is Fasching All About?
11/11 at 11:11
Fasching Costumes on Parade
Into the Fifth Season


Fasching Costumes on Parade


The Christmas Markets are closed, all the dust has settled from New Year’s fireworks, and that means it’s time to gear up for Fasching!

As you may remember, the German Karneval season (aka The Fifth Season) has long been underway. It began back in November on 11/11 at 11:11.

But with other holidays out of the way and nothing in store but cold, dark winter days between now and Ash Wednesday, it’s time to start thinking about costumes. In Mainz, Kӧln and other areas of Germany that celebrate Fasching (it’s not everywhere!), people of all ages wear costumes to march in or watch the colorful parades.

Here are some of your options:

1) It’s a fool’s holiday: Dress like a fool. Clowns and fools, or simply silly hats, are the most popular costumes along the Rhein. Even the Gutenberg statue in Mainz gets a fool’s cap for the occasion.



2) Dress like it’s Halloween: pirate, hippie, fire fighter, etc. To an American like me, this is a little tired, but there are plenty of people-characters from all walks of life whose shoes you can step into for a day.




3) *My personal recommendation*: Dress like an animal. Animals are the second most popular costume category after fools. As it was pointed out to me when we first arrived, the zip-up animal onesies are not only cute but practical as well. You’re going to wear the costume outside in winter, shouting “Helau!” (or “Alaaf!”, region-dependent) for hours, so this type of costume is warm and loose-fitting enough to go over a coat and/or a lot of layers.



4) Gear up in Fasching banner swag. This is what I like to do for the first day of festivities, and this year I’m adding fingerless gloves and a hat to my scarf and legwarmers. All the gear is striped red, white, blue and yellow. Necklaces or buttons with “Weck, Worscht & Woi” (Mainz dialect for rolls, sausage, and wine), the duck float that ends the parade, and Fasching greeting “Helau!” are also common.



5) Make your own costume. If you’re really artsy or daring and have a lot of time on your hands, bolts of fabric and bric-a-brac are available in costume stores or regular department stores as well. Who knows what you’ll come up with!



To read about how Fasching costumes differ dramatically outside of the Rhein region, see The Soundtrack of Salzburg.

Until late February, Helau!

Even Mainz bakeries gear up for Fasching

11/11 at 11:11

11/11 at 11:11
Schillerplatz with Fastnacht fountain
Schillerplatz with Fasching fountain

Once again, we have officially entered the Fifth Season, aka Karneval. Remember my first week here in Germany back in November 2013? I looked outside to get a sense of the weather by what people outside were wearing and was confused to see guys dressed up in some kind of old-timey marching band uniforms on Veteran’s Day. Years later I learned that this is because Mainz, arguably the Karneval headquarters of Germany, holds a celebration to officially open the festive fool’s holiday season.

At exactly 11:11 on November 11, a proclamation of sorts, written in rhyme and read with heavy Meenzer accents, was read to a crowd of partyers packed into Schillerplatz. This town square is notable year-round for its whimsical Fastnacht fountain, depicting an assorted cascade of fools and merriment, as well as several other Fasching-related statues. (Fasching and Fastnacht are also Karneval-related terms. Mardi Gras, if you prefer.)

The cold drizzle and muddy garden areas around the square on Friday did not keep crowds away. On the contrary, people showed up in umbrella-toting masses to drink, rock out to live music, watch the opening ceremony parade, and shout “Helau!” Many, but not all, were already wearing Fasching costumes: goofy hats, cute animal onesies, elaborate face paint, often coordinated among groups of friends. Definitely nowhere near as raucous as the main festivities at the end of the season, but impressively attended and festive nonetheless.

We could only take about an hour of the weather and crammed standing quarters before we bid farewell to this grandiose Mainz tradition. But it and we will be back in full force when the main Fasching celebrations begin: Thursday, February 23 (Weiberfastnacht, the ladies’ day of Karneval) through Tuesday, February 28 (Faschingsdienstag, Mardi Gras, the Tuesday before Ash Wednesday). As always, the biggest and wildest day of festivities will be Rosenmontag, the Monday in that time period, this year falling on February 27.

For more on Karneval/Fasching/Fastnacht, see:

What is Fasching All About? where I sum up my first impressions (still accurate) of what makes this holiday.

Into the Fifth Season with a little about costume shopping, our visit to the quaint Fastnacht Museum in Mainz, and pictures of Schillerplatz sans people.

Oktoberfest Tunes

Oktoberfest Tunes

Cannstatter Volksfest

As Oktoberfest season finally comes to a close, here are a few of my favorite fest songs and some of their key lyrics. Collected mostly from visiting the Cannstatter Volksfest and Frühlingsfest in Stuttgart and the Mainz Oktoberfest over the past couple years. Grab a beer and enjoy. Prost!

So ein schöner Tag (Fliegerlied) by Tim Touper

Imagine a tent full of festgoers atop benches acting out animal motions to this kiddy song.

Und ich flieg’, flieg’, flieg’ wie ein Flieger,
Bin so stark, stark, stark wie ein Tiger
Und so groß, groß, groß wie ‘ne Giraffe,
So hoch oh, oh, oh.
Und ich spring’, spring’, spring’ immer wieder,
Und ich schwimm’, schwimm’, schwimm’ zu dir rüber,
Und ich nehm’, nehm’, nehm’ dich bei der Hand,
Weil ich dich mag,
Und ich sag:
Heut’ ist so ein schöner Tag!

And I fly, fly, fly like an aviator,
I’m so strong, strong, strong like a tiger
and so tall, tall, tall like a giraffe
so high-i-i-i
And I jump, jump, jump again and again
And I swim, swim, swim across to you
And I take, take, take you by the hand
Because I like you
And I say:
Today is such a nice day!

Rock mi by voXXclub

The link to this flashmob version of the song is my favorite and gives a good idea of how a crowd of people gets down to this tune.

Auf geht’s, jetzt ist’s wieder soweit
Auf geht’s, heut’ wird nichts bereut

Here we go, now it’s that time again
Here we go, today there’ll be no regrets

Schatzi schenk mir ein Foto by Mickie Krause

Particularly relevant in this age of selfies and smart phones.

Bist du noch frei?
Hast du ‘ne Nummer oder
hast du ein Foto dabei?
Schatzi, schenk mir ein Foto.
Schenk mir ein Foto von dir

Are you still free?
Do you have a number or
do you have a picture with you?
Baby, give me a picture
Give me a picture of you

Viva Colonia by Höhner

Can’t help but stand up tall and march when you hear this fest favorite.

Wir lieben das Leben, die Liebe und die Lust
Wir glauben an den lieben Gott und hab’n auch immer Durst

We love life, love, and lust
We believe in God and are also always thirsty

Hӓnde zum Himmel by Hansi Hinterseer

Get your hands up! A timelessly beloved song lyric.

Und dann die Hände zum Himmel
komm lasst uns fröhlich sein
Wir klatschen zusammen
und keiner ist allein

And the hands to the sky
come, let’s be merry
We’re clapping together
and no one is alone

Geh mal Bier hol’n by Mickie Krause

As direct as a song gets about beer goggles, throwing this in as a tribute to all that fest beer.

Geh mal Bier hol’n
Du wirst schon wieder hӓsslich
1, 2 Bier
und du bist wieder schӧn

Go grab a beer
You’re already getting ugly again
1, 2 beers
and you’re beautiful again

Ein Prosit

Maybe the most frequently heard Oktoberfest song (just the short chorus played in between every few songs) to signal a toast to beer drinkers.

Ein Prosit, ein Prosit der Gemütlichkeit
Eins, zwei, drei, g’suffa!

(very roughly translated:)

Cheers, cheers to feeling good
One, two, three, drink up!

For more German tunes, see Playlist for the Autobahn with some of my favorite songs from our first summer here.

Cannstatter Volksfest

Cannstatter Volksfest

A Toast to Christmas Market Drinks

Christmas Market in Basel

It’s that most wonderful time of year again in Germany: Christmas Market season! Bands of friends and family meet day and night this month to stroll through stands of handmade crafts, tasty street food, and, of course, warm seasonal drinks served in decorative ceramic mugs. As the drinks go hand in hand with the warm sense of holiday cheer, this week I break down some typical favorites and a few other interesting ones I’ve encountered at the Christmas Markets.


Glühwein is your standard Christmas Market drink. Hot mulled wine is a good choice to warm up from the inside out on any market visit. Traditionally Glühwein is made with red wine, but variations with white wine or even rosé can also be found. It suits any afternoon or evening that requires a hat and gloves, and goes particularly well with Currywurst and fries or a gingerbread dessert.

Drink menu at Mainz Christmas Market

Eisbrecher, or ice breaker, kicks Glühwein up a notch with a shot of rum. Try this when you’re out late on a Friday or Saturday night looking to chat up other fest-goers and/or unselfconsciously practice your German. Many variations exist with shots of all different kinds of alcohol (mit Schuβ = with shot).


Feuerzangenbowle is a rum punch with fruit and wine simmered in a copper cauldron, usually with a rum-soaked sugar cone lit on fire dripping over it. This drink is perfect for especially cold evenings while browsing the stands or chatting with friends after dinner.

Drink stand

Lumumba, hot cocoa with a shot of rum, brings an adult twist to a childhood favorite. It can be served with whipped cream for an added touch of nostalgia. Try this when you need some extra encouragement to ice skate or are simply looking for a substitute for Glühwein. Similar variations substitute a shot of amaretto or Bailey’s or add a sprinkle of cinnamon.


Bombardino is a concoction of eggnog and whiskey topped with whipped cream that I found newly added to this year’s market in Basel, Switzerland. It’s a good way to kick off the weekend or celebrate a special occasion.

Heisse Frosch

Heisse Frosch, or hot frog, is another new creation of the Basel Christmas Market combining green vodka with peppermint tea. I couldn’t bring myself to try this weird mix, but would suggest that you make this your last drink of the night if it sounds appealing to you.

Prost & Frohes Fest!

What are your favorite (or most unusual) Christmas Market drinks?

Into the Fifth Season

Karneval flags
Mainz Fasching Fountain in Schillerplatz

Winter, Spring, Summer, Fall, and… Karneval. November 11 actually marks the turn of the fifth season, but after New Year’s is when it really starts to get visibly underway. Come January 2, local Karneval clubs raise their primary-colored flags, bakeries decorate with streamers and jesters, and department stores fill with costumes.

Costumes. A must for parade-goers of ALL ages – kids, teens, adults, and seniors alike.

Last year James and I got hats and leis with the colors of the German flag (which came in handy again during World Cup season) but this year we want to go all out. After wading through a sea of capes, silly hats, and animal onesies (ladybugs and bees look particularly popular this year), we came out with a bunch of clown gear. After all, this is a fool’s holiday.

Mainzer Fastnachtsmuseum with jester statue

Then as we watched a Christmas tree that had been tossed to the curb literally blow away in the wind, we made our way to Mainz’s Fastnachtsmuseum to get into the holiday spirit. Fastnacht or Fasching are other words for the Karneval time of year, leading up to and ending with Ash Wednesday. Mainz vies with Köln for throwing the biggest and craziest Karneval celebrations each year, and the city is filled year-round with Karneval-inspired statues. The museum is cozy and filled with colorful costumes, giant caricature heads and videos from parades past, float design boards, and lots of Mainzer history.

Inside the museum

For more description of the fifth season, see What is Fasching All About? where I sum up my first impressions from last year’s celebrations. More on this again in mid-February when the main events take place this year. Helau!

Another Fasching statue in Schillerplatz, Mainz

Bier vs. Wein: Welcome to Fall


When we moved to Germany last fall, some Mainz locals told us that there’s a major difference between Mainz and Wiesbaden (two state capitals divided by the Rhein River): People who love wine live in Mainz. People who love beer live in Wiesbaden. We chose not to resolve this age-old dilemma and ended up moving to the border.

Bier: Cannstatter Volksfest

We kicked off the first official weekend of fall this year with an Oktoberfest-style festival in Stuttgart called the Cannstatter Volksfest. Like most of the crowd, we were decked out in traditional Bavarian gear: Lederhosen with suspenders and a stylish hat for James and a Dirndl (the traditional dress) with a blouse and apron for me. Where the apron bow is tied indicates a lady’s status: right = married, left = single, middle = taken but not married, and back = widow. Many ladies instead wore Lederhosen shorts with a blouse version of the checkered shirt. And I saw at least one man (beard and all) wearing a Dirndl and a blond braided wig.

Cannstatter Volksfest in the tent
Cannstatter Volksfest in the tent

Starting late morning, we enjoyed the first half of the day at one of the big reserved tables inside a circus-y red and white striped tent. The energy of the fest was fueled by a live band playing a mix of traditional German songs and mostly German and American contemporary pop music. After a few Maβ (the big glass mugs) of beer, everyone at our table was up on the long wooden benches singing and dancing along. Interspersed, of course, were trips to the long 50-cent bathroom lines.

Reservation hours ended at 4 p.m. so we moved on to the area outside the tent, filled with the standard festival rides, games, and food stands. The highlight toward the end of the day was, as I’m convinced it should be for all Oktoberfests, riding the roller coaster. Coasting around to view a town from every possible angle at night couldn’t be more loud, brightly lit, terrifying, or exciting by the end of this type of fest.

Fest by night
Fest by night

Wein: Grape Picking and Ingelheimer Red Wine Festival

Last weekend we were in for a totally different kind of experience, this time to develop a deeper appreciation for the wine-making process. From about 8 in the morning until 4 in the afternoon, we toiled in a vineyard under a warm early autumn sun with a set of pruners and a plastic bucket per person. Our task was to snip every bunch of Riesling-to-be grapes in our designated row, the moldier the better in wine terms apparently. Dull thuds followed by dusty clouds of mold rising off the buckets filled the air. We brushed off ladybugs, spiders, leaves, and dry shriveled grapes, standing up frequently to combat backaches and bent knees.

Vineyard at the start of the day
Vineyard at the start of the day
From vine...
From vine…
to bucket...
to bucket…
to tractor
to tractor

In exchange for a hard day’s work, we received three meals put together by the vintner’s wife. The first two were set out on rough wooden picnic tables at the end of the rows: A breakfast of bread, cheeses, cold cuts, and light breakfast wine; and a lunch of roasted pork served with a horseradish sauce, potatoes, green beans, mushrooms, and more wine. Back in the vintner’s own dining room, we enjoyed coffee and cake (yes, this is a late afternoon meal here) consisting of Apfelwein cake, chocolate cake made with red wine, and cheesecake. Followed, of course, by a wine tasting of some of the winery’s best. Leave it to a group of Americans to do farm work for the experience and food/wine.

Ingelheimer Rotweinfest
Ingelheimer Rotweinfest

While white wine is the specialty of the Rheinland in general, red wine is the specialty of Ingelheim (a town just west of Mainz). Yesterday we topped off the wine-themed weekend by sampling a couple of glasses to accompany a dinner of Bratwurst, fries, and Magenbrot (iced gingerbread) while listening to live covers of mellow American 90s hits.

Prost and happy fall!