When my husband and I decided to visit Mainz, we didn’t realize it hosts one of the three largest German Carnival celebrations (the others are in Cologne and Düsseldorf). The hotels had plenty of availability and we were looking forward to seeing the Gutenberg Museum and trying the local wines and beers.
It wasn’t until my friend Timo, a Mainz local, asked, “you know the Fastnacht season is kicking off, right?” that I realized things would turn out a little differently than we’d imagined. No problem; we’re flexible. Then I tried to make a reservation for six for lunch and was told no restaurants accept reservations during Fastnacht and good luck. Then the Gutenberg Museum, along with other sights and shops, was closed.
Not joining in was not a choice. The tubas and German techno started up and the smell of fried food filled the air, so we bought two hats and enjoyed the sights.
Mainz’s celebration features the usual: costumes, street food, beer stands, parades, singing and dancing. The costumes weren’t as extravagant as we saw in Maastricht last year.
We quickly learned that the battle cry is “Helau!” This is accompanied by a wave and can be directed at anyone. The more beer that’s consumed, of course, the louder and more frequent the cries.
Mainz’s celebration is different than Cologne’s and Düsseldorf’s because it emphasizes political humor and commentary. The politicization began in the early 19th century when celebrants mocked the French troops stationed in the city.
Today, many of the guard costumes are reminiscent of Austrian, French and Prussian troops who occupied Mainz between 1792 and 1866. The guards are a respected tradition and membership is extremely difficult, typically awarded through legacy.
Mainz’s Carnival season officially begins on November 11 at 11:11, and continues through Ash Wednesday. The main events take place in the days leading up to Ash Wednesday.