Weiberfastnacht: The Day German Women Stormed the Ramparts

By: Michelle Konstantinovsky  | 
Women march in costume during a Weiberfastnacht parade in the German city of Bonn. Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 4.0)

There are few things more satisfying than watching modern-day feminists clap back against still-persistent gender inequality. But today's justice leaders may actually owe some credit to 19th-century German ladies who had had just about enough of their male counterparts having all the fun while they toiled on the job. The old-school answer to this flagrant inequity? A little something called Weiberfastnacht that's still celebrated throughout cities like Mainz, Cologne and Düsseldorf.

Back in 1824, a group of washerwomen in the tiny Rhineland region town of Beuel (part of Bonn) were so over working 16-hour days while their husbands, brothers, fathers and uncles got to skip out on responsibilities and celebrate Carnival (or Karneval), Deutschland's debaucherous equivalent to Mardi Gras. Enter the Beuel Ladies' Committee, a group of these hard-working women who stormed city hall in 1824 in a fired-up demonstration of women's rights.


Today, Weiberfastnacht — composed of the words "weiber" (women) and "fastnacht," another word for carnival — lives on as a fun-filled, female tradition that takes place on the Thursday before Ash Wednesday. The unofficial holiday kicks off at exactly 11:11 a.m. with a street festival, and revelers don colorful, over-the-top costumes, and the annual "storming" of city hall is broadcast live on television. The festivities also include some interesting customs like "necktie-cutting," a symbolic gesture to show men who's boss. The men customarily get a kiss or a "Bützchen" in return for the chopped accessory. Basically, women run the show in every way on this celebratory day, and everyone gets to enjoy the spoils of a lady-led world with a parade, food, drinks and fun. Now can someone explain why this is just a regional, one-day event and not the universal norm?