In Germany, Carnival, the period before Lent, is called Fasching. It is celebrated throughout Germany, but the celebration is unique in the Bavarian alps. Here, the past lives in the present in that the traditional dress, the hand-crafted wooden masks, the roles of the participants, all are just as they were 500 years ago. These images are from Bavarian towns of Mittenwald and Garmisch Partenkirchen.

The Alpine Carnival traditions hark back to pagan times, where the function of the Fasching was to usher out the winter and herald the arrival of spring, to drive out evil spirits and to ensure fertility.

Hand-carved wooden masks are worn only by men, called "Maschkera." Each mask is unique and expressive. Hand carved masks are family heirlooms, wrapped up in cloth until they are taken out once a year for Fasching. They are pieces of art, passed down from generation to generation.

In the Fasching parade there are many Maschkera characters. Some are comical, some are serious, but they all follow tradition. There is the line of 12 bell-ringers, called Schnellenruhrer, who represent the 12 months of the year. They wear traditional lederhosen and carry huge cow bells on their hips. They run through the town, shaking their bells with the intent to awaken the spring spirits. Other Maschkera wear different costumes, still adorned with bells, big and small, including huge wooden cowbells.

The "Jacklschutzer" also wear traditional lederhosen, but have a knitted mask. Their role is to throw a huge rag doll in the air, representing the tossing away of winter. Groups of men, teens and little boys gather to do this. Other characters wear costumes made of small remnants of cloth. And a parade isn't a parade without music.

In contemporary Fasching, children enjoy the parade in costume, give one another candies and enjoy ice cream. But at the end of a long day of play, there is nothing like eating one of the very special Fasching donuts, covered in powdered sugar.
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