German heritage highlighted with Fastnacht celebration

The last Tuesday before the Christian season of Lent goes by many names. To some, it's Shrove Tuesday, focusing on confession and absolution. Others call it Fat Tuesday, emphasizing the tradition of using up fats before the solemn fasting and penance of Lent. It's also been called Pancake Day.

For the French, it's Mardi Gras. 

But in German, it's Fastnacht. 

Columbia United Church of Christ hosted its 29th annual Fastnacht on Tuesday (Feb. 12), complete with bratwurst, sauerkraut and a German band.

The celebration used to be held at the church, but it was moved to Knights of Columbus Hall in recent years to accomodate a bigger crowd – between 400 and 500 people from the church and the community come for the meal and celebration. 

Walter Schroeder has been coming to celebrations since they began 29 years ago, and his heritage is German – his grandparents immigrated to the U.S. from Germany in the 1880s. 

Schroeder said the pastor who started the Fastnacht tradition in Columbia was originally from St. Louis, but the pastor's family lived in Herman, a Missouri town with a strong sense of German tradition. 

The German party season, Karnival, starts at the end of Epiphany and runs until Ash Wednesday, the beginning of Lent, Schroeder said. Fastnacht is the last night of the celebration. 

Like the French tradition in New Orleans of dressing up in masks, the Germans also wear masks. But unlike the bright colors and frills of the French, the German masks are of ogres and other dark, fierce creatures. 

“We don't do it [that way] in this country, and I wish we would,” Schroeder said. “I guess we're too much influenced by New Orleans.”

And there's another difference, he said: “There's absolutely no sex in German Karnival.” Just big skirts and beer.

There was no beer at the celebration in Columbia Tuesday night, as the church tries to focus the event on families. But there was plenty of food, all of it homemade. 

Tom Schupp, co-chair of the Fastnacht committee, summed up the numbers behind the menu:

  • 18 gallons of sauerkraut
  • 160 pounds of potatoes
  • 875 bratwursts

The bratwursts were made here in Boone County, and the same German potato salad recipe has been used for all 29 years of the celebration – adjusted along the way by individual cooks, of course. 

For dessert, there were donuts. Schroeder said the recipe came from the Pennsylvania Dutch.

But the original donuts wouldn't have been square, like the ones served at this year's Fastnacht. Schroeder said traditionally, at least in his experience, whoever was doing the cooking would just put a lump of dough into the fat to fry, so the donuts would come out in all sorts of different shapes.

“As kids, we always tried to look for animals in different shapes,” he said. “A frog, a bird.”

The children at Fastnacht on Tuesday in Columbia spent little time with their food – instead, they ran around and danced to the German music. 

The band, Der Deutchmeister Music Makers, has played at Fastnacht for the past few years, though the group was started about 30 years ago. Although the German heritage of the band members is limited, they wear authentic Lederhosen.

It was German immigrants who founded Columbia United Church of Christ 90 years ago. Pastor Steve Swope said Fastnacht “helps maintain the German heritage.”

To see photos of the food and festivities, click through the slideshow at the top of the story.

About Kellie Moore

Kellie Moore (formerly Kotraba) served as the editor and community manager of Columbia Faith & Values through summer 2014. Although she is originally from the West – Nevada and California – she’s now proud to call Missouri home. She currently teaches English at Fr. Tolton High School.

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