Height of Fasching

Ever wonder what the rest of the world is doing while French-influenced cultures are ringing in Mardi Gras? It turns out a lot of them are pulling similar stunts. Even though the Germans don't actually call it Fat Tuesday, which would be Dienstag Fett, they nonetheless have their own unique approach to celebrating the day before Ash Wednesday. The Fasching Grand Masken Ball at the American German Club of the Palm Beaches this Friday marks the culmination of the Fasching (carnival) season, which officially began November 11 at 11 p.m.

Since November 11, a whole lot of planning has been going on: the crowning of this year's prince and princess, who will be honored at the ball by the past 11 years' princes and princesses; the naming of the 11 Fasching commissioners, easily identified by their fancy Fasching hats; and the appointment of the jail warden and the three policemen. According to tradition the warden and his cronies arrest partyers at the event for whatever offenses the warden can concoct. Laughing too hard or singing too softly, for example, could get you thrown in ze cooler. Don't worry, though, it takes only a dollar to get out of jail. The American German Club puts the money into its coffers for a worthy cause; past bail money has gone to help local hospice centers.

At the ball only the reveler's imagination limits the outlandishness of the costume. In the past, Marie Antoinettes, Leonardo da Vincis, Statues of Liberty, and M&Ms have made appearances. This year the best overall costume receives a grand prize of two round-trip tickets from Miami to Germany. The dance floor will be swirling with masked waltzers; featured act the Bob Houston Band can indeed kick it old Schule but can also blast the big-band sounds. In any case you'd best be prepared sooner or later to schunkel: That is, to sit in your seat, link arms with the people sitting on either side of you, and sway from side to side while singing such old favorites as "Ein Mal Am Rhein." All of this takes place in a building that looks like an old German chalet.

The full-service bar should get you in the mood for a sing-along; all that dancing should give you an appetite. You could order the fish of the day, but really you'd be a fool to pass up German native Chef Dieter's authentic sauerbraten.

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Dale Koppel