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Mardis Gras on the river: Fasching brings weekend of fun to Helen
Annual midwinter festival draws bigger crowd to banks of Chattahoochee
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Parade participants wave from the Chattahoochee River during the annual Fasching River Parade and Party in Helen, on Saturday, Feb. 3, 2018. - photo by David Barnes

More than 70 people braved the cold Saturday afternoon at the 7th annual Fasching River Parade and Party in Helen.

Pronounced “fosh-ing,” the celebration is similar to Mardi Gras, but with a Bavarian twist, and includes tubing down the frigid Chattahoochee River.

“We started this Fasching festival in 2011, back then it was just myself and two other people,” said Sharon Hartis, event coordinator. “We just walked around town in our costumes and had a good time. The event has definitely grown since then; this year, we have 76 registered tubers. Of course, we always have more people that come to party with us.”

For many people, including Mark and Kimberly Smith from Rock Hill, S.C., this festive event has become a tradition.

“Mark lived in Germany for seven years, and then he brought me to Helen one year for my birthday,” Kimberly said. “After that, I fell in love with the town. Everyone I’ve met at these events is so nice, and we’ve made a lot of friends here.”

Costumes were a huge factor in the festival, and the Smiths came armed with several.

“Last night I wore a bright red outfit with a nice corset, but today I went with more of a steampunk look,” she said. “Mark is a black and white jester — very Mardi Gras inspired.” 

Karen Tapley came to celebrate, bringing her rescue dogs Sissy and Rosie, each dressed in costumes.

“I lived in Germany for about three years, so this is like a little piece of the culture I left behind,” she said. “Helen is about as close as you can get to being in Germany without actually being there and the people here are just as friendly. Everyone is all about having a good time.”

Her friend Mike Benefield agreed.

“It’s fun to be able to let loose and act crazy with everyone,” he said.

David Snyder of Eustis, Fla., came up to enjoy a weekend full of partying.

“This could be my third year for sure, maybe the fourth — you lose count when you’re having fun,” he said with a laugh. “There was a party last night, with another one tonight. Today I will be tubing down the river in costume after the parade and the seven ‘schnapps stops’ — the schnapps is basically antifreeze.” 

According to Snyder, the idea is to not get wet, especially with the water being around 45 degrees.

“Even though it’s pretty cold outside, I think every single one of us keeps coming back just because of the fun and the camaraderie,” he said.

Susan Harris came from Atlanta for the parade and to watch the tubers.

“Up until a few years ago, I had no idea that there was anything such as a German version of Mardi Gras,” she said. “Watching the people on tubes is my favorite part, although I wouldn’t get on one. In the past, those knuckleheads have even tubed in the snow!”

She said that despite the cold, everyone is so congenial and glad they came.

Walter Snyder, executive director of the Faschingsverein Helen River Rats, is very familiar with history of Helen and Fasching.

“Our largest fasching festival to date was 2015, when we had 99 people to tube down the river,” he said. “This year’s festival has been a great one so far and I hope it continues to bring people to Helen.”

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