Carnival, known locally as Fastnacht, has its origins in medieval religious festivals and is celebrated especially in the Rhineland area of Germany. Carnival season starts on November 11 each year and ends on Ash Wednesday. Celebrations peak on the weekend before Ash Wednesday and are accompanied by a large parade on Rosenmontag, or Rose Monday, which is the final hurrah of the pre-Lenten season. The comedic performances, staged government take-overs by costumed 'fools', political satire, elaborate parades and traditional songs and foods, make carnival season a great time of year for visitors to experience a unique German tradition.
The cities best known for their Carnival celebrations are Cologne, Düsseldorf and Mainz, all located on the Rhine river. Festivities begin on the Thursday before Carnival weekend with the Ladies' Carnival or Weiberfastnacht. Women parade in the streets and herald the upcoming weekend of craziness by cutting men's ties in half to show that the fools, or Narrenschar, now rule the city.
In Frankfurt, the reigning of the fools is further symbolized by the storming of the Römer, which always occurs on the Saturday of Carnival weekend. The fools, dressed as knights and soldiers, first march through the city and then storm the mayor's office with pretend cannon fire and speeches whereby the mayor officially hands over the keys to the city for the duration of the Carnival. The fools are headed by two children chosen to act as the Carnival prince and princess, who receive the keys and play a large role in the parade.
On Rosenmontag, costumed and face-painted revellers greet each other with a shout of "Helau!" throughout the day. Parades with elaborately decorated floats wind through the carnival cities. Parade participants throw out candy, chocolates and toys, while shops and kiosks sell spiced wine, sausages, schnapps and kreppel (sugar–covered, jelly-filled doughnuts).