To heck with New Orleans. If you really want to celebrate Lent, go to Germany. Sheesh. Every little town has its fasching parade on Faschingdienstag (Fat Tuesday to you and me). You will be chased and teased by people in masks often worn by their great-great-grandfathers; treated to clowns and tumblers; and surrounded by beer, bratwurst, and all that wonderful German food. It's hard not to love Fasching, even when it's a gray February day, because it is just so much fun.

Carnival season starts at various times in Germany. In the Rhineland, Fasching officially begins at 11:11 on the morning of November 11 and kicks into high gear just before Lent. The Rhineland parties on Rose Monday, especially in Cologne, where the parade pretty much shuts down the town. In Bavaria, Munich, and other parts of Germany, Faschingdienstag is the day, the last before Ash Wednesday and the actual start of Lent.

Germans can be so staid and proper much of the time that watching them let their hair down is a good time even if you don't join in. But, trust me, you will definitely want to join in the fun. It's called the foolish season for a reason. The fun begins in some places with the local women storming the town rathhaus (city hall) and capturing the key from the mayor, precisely at 11:11 a.m. This may involve a woman in black actually climbing a ladder and invading the place while the rest of the town looks on. Once the key has been claimed or captured, the ladies rule the town for the rest of the day.

Most little towns have a parade, with floats and masked revelers galore. The "fools" chase people around with little sticks with tails attached, shaking them in people's faces. If you have a tie you particularly hate, Fasching is the time to wear it, as women wander around with scissors cutting off men's ties (or kissing every man they meet, or both). Just like in New Orleans, costumes are king, and everybody has a good time.

Many people around the world think of Oktoberfest as Germany's biggest party. Wrong - its Fasching. A lot of planning by carnival clubs goes into making fasching week a lot of fun. It runs from the Thursday before Ash Wednesday to "fastnacht" (fasting eve), the night before the Lenten fast begins. The party ends on Tuesday, so everyone goes all out beforehand. Wherever you go in Germany that week, but especially the Rhineland, you can't miss being part of the biggest party of all.