Fastnacht

As many parts of the world today celebrate the day before Ash Wednesday and the beginning of Lent, I am reminded of a trip I took several years ago to Switzerland, where I used to travel for business regularly. While there in Zug, a city just south of Zurich, in late February, I was informed that I should go explore Fastnacht that evening. “Fastnacht?” I asked, having no idea what my colleagues were referring to. But they encouraged me to brave the cold and experience the Swiss-German version of Fat Tuesday, Mardi Gras or Carnival. So I went that night with Melissa, another American colleague I was traveling with, and was blown away with what I saw.

There were people dressed up as animals, people wearing large and grotesque masks, groups of marching bands, brass bands dueling with other brass bands, tents set up to serve beer, strong cheese, pretzels and sausages, and ordinary masses of people, like me, on the sidelines observing the festivities with a cell phone camera wondering how this mayhem got its start. Turns out, Fastnacht goes back centuries in Germanic-speaking Europe and varies by region, with Lucerne and Basel known for their wild Fastnacht parades and events. All in all, it was quite the experience and one I am unlikely to have for years to come.

 

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