The period leading up to Lent in Germany is called Fasching. It starts in November with a few parties, but doesn't really get cranking until the last week or so before Ash Wednesday. My first experience with Fasching was in 1965, I had heard of Mardi Gras in New Orleans, of course, but I didn't know anything about it. All I knew was that the town of Bad Kissingen was really hopping in February. Some of my buds and I were at the big dancehall across the river on Saturday night and, MAN...was it goin' on ! I was amazed at the behavior of our German neighbors. There was literally dancing on the tables, some impromtu stripping, some very, very close dancing and lots of kissing..just random drive-by style kissing. We were on regular passes which meant we had to be back in our bunks not later than one o'clock in the morning. Things were just getting about right when we had to leave...some serious table dancing was happening and...well...it was hard to leave.
I didn't get on the Sunday pass list because Bad Kissingen was a very quiet place on Sunday. But being a smart kid, I was not going to have bedcheck get in the way next time. I put in for an overnight pass. For some reason, all the overnights allowed for our platoon were filled up for Monday, so I got set up for Tuesday. I asked the guys who had been there longer what was up with all the partying...I hadn't seen anything like that in town before. They told me it was Fasching...they even had special songs they sang for the occasion...and they really cut loose just before Lent. What's Lent? Not sure, but they party up to it then quit.
Tuesday, I was ready. I didn't even go into town before 1000 PM, cause I knew they needed to warm up some. I got to the Schweizerhof right around 1030. And the place was jumping. I got kissed and danced with and beered up and got to see some pretty cool table dancing and I was getting ripe. The place was so crowded that you couldn't just walk across the dance floor, you had to wiggle where ever you wanted to go...that was cool. I didn't even mind the unshaven legs and armpits, I was really getting into it...I liked Fasching. At midnight the clock started it's chimes and a funny thing happened. The band walked off the stand, the bartender closed up the bar, the big doors opened and people started filing out, leaving half drunk beers and burning cigarettes and plates of pomme fritz and the whole thing just melted away into the night. By the time the last chime rang, the place was practically empty. The Wirtsman gave me the high sign, time to go. I wanted to protest, I had an overnight....I was ready to Fasch...where was everybody going?
As time went on, I learned more about this custom. In the ramp up to Lent, the folks crammed all the party they could into that last few days because as serious as they were about Fasching, they were equally as serious about Lent. In the heavily Catholic Bavaria, not only did people commit to some sort of sacrifice, businesses did too. The juke boxes were all unplugged, some of the bars only sold beer, no hard stuff, no dancing, no singing, and no loud laughter. But that night as I walked back to the Kaserne (yeah, no taxis, either), all I knew was that the party was over way too soon and I had wasted the only overnight pass I was likely to get for a while.
Just about every year at this time I recall that night. Happy Fat Tuesday, y'all.