Portraits From The World’s Most Surreal Costume Party

A photographer who grew up in the Black Forest returns, training her lens on local traditions and a crumbling tourist industry.

Bavaria was once the heart of pre-Christian Germany, where a coalition of Germanic tribes made their seat more than 2,000 years ago. Like most northern Europeans, they upheld a form of paganism closely tied to nature and the seasons–until, of course, they were converted in the 9th century. Today, Bavaria is best known for its natural beauty and unusual dialect, costumes, and delicacies. Photographer Anne-Sophie Stolz demonstrates how myriad cultural and religious traditions still intermingle in the region.


Stolz grew up in Swabian Bavaria (Schwaben, in German), and as a young photographer, sought to document it in her thesis project, Cuckoo Clock and Cherry Cake. “It was a mystical place in the past,” she explains over email. “The aim was to shape a story about a region whose mysticism is faded, and even its image as a tourist area is crumbling.” She focused on shooting traditional festivals, like Fastnacht, a Germanic variant of Mardi Gras, for the 135-page thesis book, which has since been shortlisted for the 2012 International Dummy Book Award.

Swabian-Alemannic Fastnacht, like so many other religious holidays, is a much older festival that was co-opted by Catholicism. Today, it’s officially a pre-Lenten feast, but in Bavaria (and across much of Austria and Switzerland) the traditions contain artifacts of older times: villagers dress in masks and costumes and parade through the streets in a symbolic expulsion of winter’s gloom. The night culminates in the burning of an “old man winter” effigy (you know, typical Catholic stuff). Stolz, who calls herself “a tourist in her own town,” staged portraits of Fastnacht attendees dressed in their finery: suits covered in pine cones, demons with horns, and men covered in grass and moss. The series contrasts the banality of life in a small town with what Stolz calls “the phenomenon of preservation, of holding old values are important points of life there.”

For a fine art photographer, Stolz’s photos have a distinct anthropological aura. One book documents a prefab dormitory and its inhabitants, another, oddities of suburban life. Her lens in Cuckoo Clock and Cherry Cake, too, is inquisitive–each photo in the complete series explains a different aspect of the culture she’s hoping to capture on film. You can check out her full portfolio here.

About the author

Kelsey Campbell-Dollaghan is Co.Design's deputy editor.