Skeptic at work: Fasching


So in my job, I have to travel a lot.  Most people would write that sentence as “I *get to* travel a lot” but not me.  I like to be at home and comfortable in familiar surroundings with my wife and a solid internet connection.  Call me crazy.  Anyway, on this most recent trip, myself and my coworkers had a 24 hour layover in Germany.  Our work was kind enough to supply us with a room at a hotel and we managed to enjoy the sights and sounds of Koln for one day.

Amongst our group was one person who had spent some time in Germany a few years ago.  He was happy to share his experience with us to help us get around but I noticed a distinct pattern in his “advice”.  Every time one of us noticed someone doing something out of the ordinary, he would say something to the affect of “that’s German culture”.  But never in a bad way, it was always in the light of them being better than us North Americans in some way.

I was determined to find a term for this attitude and when I FINALLY got internet where I am (long story) I managed to find the perfect term:  Xenocentrism.  A bus driver slams the brakes too hard? Well that’s just because Germans are used to going fast!  Waiter takes too long to get us the check?  Well that’s because Germans are relaxed and spend all evening at restaurants.

But then came the craziest thing I’ve ever heard anyone say:  Every year, Germans celebrate “Fasching” and on that night, women are allowed to do whatever they want including sleep around on their husbands/boyfriends.  If a man comes home to find another man’s shoes outside his door on that night, he must relent his wife to that man for the evening and all is forgiven.  In addition, any child concieved on that night will be taken care of by the state.

Even my non-skeptical friends sitting at the table raised a skeptical eyebrow to that one.  I flat out shook my head in disbelief… not only in the claim, but the fact that someone could seriously make that claim.

So since there’s a lot to this claim, I’ll break it down into its parts as I researched it.
First off, Fasching is more than one night.  It’s actually a week long celebration before lent.  Making it the equivalent celebration of Mardi Gras or Carnivale.  In fact, another name for the event in Germany is “Karnevale”.  This is a catholic celebration to get a bunch of fun out of the way before lent starts.  But the accuracy of the duration of the celebration aside, at least this claim has some basis in fact.  There is indeed a Fasching.

The part of Fasching (or Fastnacht) that he was referring to also has some root in fact.  The Thursday before Ash Wednesday at 11:11am is the start of “der Weiberfastnacht” or Carnival of Women.  On that day, the tradition is that women are in charge.  They pull pranks like storming the mayor’s office and, most famously cutting off men’s ties.  I’ve even found sites that say they can kiss any man they want.  So again, there is definately some truth to what my coworker was saying.

And I didn’t really doubt these elements of the claim.  It’s conceivable that part of a week long celebration would contain a “ladies’ night” of sorts.  In fact, one of the main traditions of Carnivale all over the world is the making fun of the people in charge.  A sad fact of history within the Western world and in the Catholic church (actually a sad fact of the present as well) is that men were in charge.  Having a day in Carnivale dedicated to turning that notion on its head is probably where that started.

But then the whole “allowed to cheat on their husbands” and “children conceived that day are taken care of by the state” that this guy casually tossed in at the end stretches credulity to absurd lengths.  I could find no evidence anywhere that this is the case.  The only examples of things women are “allowed” to do were the cutting off ties (they even take sissors with them to clubs for that purpose) and kissing.  I suppose it’s not much of a stretch that single women (or women in very open/progressive relationships) would use that night as an excuse to be promiscuous (much like North American women do during Halloween) but I highly doubt that a couple in a loving, committed relationship would simply cheat on each other for the sake of a cultural festival and both parties would be ok with it.

It’s also pretty damn sexist to assume that women all WANT to cheat on their husbands and are just waiting for an excuse like Fasching to do so.  It’s also crazy to think that a husband who loves his wife would sit idly by as another man cavorts with her, all while shrugging his shoulders going, “Hey it’s a party!”  Cutting ties is one thing.  Kissing is also a step that is conceivable but would depend on the couple.  But full-on adultery is highly improbable.   But still, I found no real contrary evidence except the fact that this joke on page 6 about a cheating spouse during Fasching is only funny in light of this claim NOT being the case.  Why would it be funny if it happens often?  Plus the whole thing is a Catholic festival.  Why would a church that emphasizes the sanctity of marriage to the point where it doesn’t grant divorces go along with such a sinful activity?

And then there’s the whole state sponsered nature of the claim.  Again, I have found no contrary evidence other than how ridiculous it is to begin with.  How the hell would this be regulated??  How could you tell when the child was concieved?  Every 9 months after Fasching there is a huge round up of all the newborns and DNA tests conducted to confirm they are the biological offspring of their married parents?  And if not, they get full sponsorship from the state?  Puh-lease.

Well there you have it.  Another edition of Skeptic at Work.  Even being out in the desert in a warzone on the other side of the planet hasn’t stopped me!  Bam!  :)  I have to admit I had a hard time looking this one up.  Especially because of the inaccuracy of the names/timelines of the original story.  But a little effort on my part managed to sift through that and get to what he MEANT to say.  Still… I wish I could’ve found some solid evidence against the claim but the fact that I couldn’t find a single mention anywhere about this tradition might be evidence enough.  If anyone out there has anything to add, please let me know.

Thanks for reading!



One response to “Skeptic at work: Fasching

  1. Okay, I’m just tossing this out there. I’m not an expert, I could be wrong, but I was raised in Germany and I was always told the something very similar.
    It wasn’t that women were encouraged to cheat but just that affairs during Fasching weren’t grounds for divorce. Obviously most women never cheated in the first place.
    The “raised by the state” thing applied to single women. If you got pregnant out of wedlock during Fasching it was put down as having Father Fasching for a parent and the state did help support it.
    That was quite a while ago, I have no clue if they still do all of that but it was considered common knowledge when I was young.