Nationwide Inventory of Intangible Cultural Heritage

Honorable Court of Fools in Grosselfingen

The Honourable Court of Fools in Grosselfingen (Baden-Württemberg) is a Southern German Carnival tradition maintained over centuries, which takes place in irregular intervals of three to seven years.

Facts & figures

Crucial date: Sunday before the Shrovetide-week starts and the Thursday before ash Wednesday
Inscription: 2015
Domains: performing arts; social practices, rituals and festive events
Where to find: Grosselfingen (Baden-Württemberg)


Manfred Ostertag
(Head und Fool's Bailiff)

The Carnival play begins following a church service around midday and lasts until nightfall. The entire village is declared to be a Venetian empire and thus to an open-air stage. The local court sessions of the Lords of Venice take place in the court pub.

The most important privilege of the Court of Fools is the right to reprimand.

In this way, transgressions are revealed to the public in a foolish manner. This privilege has been recorded in the time between 1407 and 1522 in the letter of freedom of the Court of Fools. Over the centuries, this repeatedly helped the Court of Fools to defend and newly legitimize its traditions in the face of changing authorities.

The old fool's rules are the framework for this process, within which 39 different foolish figures fulfil their assigned duties. In some cases, certain roles have been occupied by single families over several generations. Besides the players, who are members of the Brotherhood of the Honourable Court of Fools, the pastor, the pastor's cook and the mayor also take part. Some roles carry out their boisterous jest amongst themselves and with the audience.

A gaily coloured parade of the fools winds its way through the streets and alleys to the pastor, fulfilling an ancient begging custom.

The Brotherhood of the Honourable Court of Fools, made up of men and women members, also meets and affects communal life off Carnival itself. As part of the brotherhood of the Virgin Mary, the members of the brotherhood support each other in emergencies and care for each other beyond death.

The Honourable Court of Fools in Grosselfingen represents a collective local ritual with an exceptionally active local association and publicity work, which transcend the limited Carnival activities and include active youth work. The custom involves up to 300 players from the 2,000-person village and has vast cultural and social impact.


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Deutsche UNESCO-Kommission, 2019