Cologne (Köln) knows how to party for Karneval. The last big party before Lent is better known as Mardi Gras in the USA and takes on the names of Karneval, Fasching or Fastnacht depending on where you are in Germany.
The "fifth season" is a chance for pious Germans to get wild and planning actually starts on November 11 at 11:11. But the real festivities kick off 40 days before Easter. There are parades, parties on the street, and elegant costumed balls. The glühwein and kölsch (Cologne beer) flow, sugary sweets like krapfen (doughnut) are devoured, and children and adults dress up in costumes like jecken (clown).
And the party isn't limited to Cologne. Many German cities host their own soirée with countless parades and millions of spectators at the events and watching on TV. Get ready to party during the top events of German Karneval.
2018/9 Carnival calendar:
- Council of Eleven Carnival Planning: November 11th, 2018
- Women's Carnival Day (Weiberfastnacht) on February 28th: Costumed women gather in the streets and gleefully attack men by cutting off their ties.
- Rose Monday (Rosenmontag) March 4th: Monday brings the pinnacle of the celebration with marching bands, dancers, and performers tossing out kamelle (sweets) and tulips to the boisterous crowds. In a show of pointed humor, floats often depict caricatures of politicians and famous German personalities.
- Ash Wednesday (Aschermittwoch) March 6th: The pious go to church where they receive an ash cross to wear throughout the day. A traditional fish dinner is the start of healthier living for the coming season.
A rival with Cologne in all things, Düsseldorf's Karneval celebration is similarly over-the-top. Locals make fun of their neighboring city in song during the myriad of events and massive parade, shouting “Helau” and hoisting a mass of Altbier in response to Cologne's calls of "Alaaf" and diminutive glasses of Kölsch.
Original to Düsseldorf's festivities, the hoppeditz (the fool) is awakened on November 11th and starts the celebration with an opening speech known as the Narrenschelte (Joker's Scolding) in the town square. This entire square transforms into “the longest bar in the world" with pointed political floats.
Düsseldorfer Karneval Highlights:
- Altweiberfastnacht - Ladies take over the Rathaus (City Hall) and the street carnival begins in the Old Town.
- Jugendumzug - The Youth Procession has carnival fans - both young and old - known as Jecken (clowns) march through town.
- Carnival Sunday - Street carnival on Königsallee.
- Tonnenrennen - The Barrel Race is a traditional event where competitors run down the street with massive barrels.
- Rosenmontagszug - The carnival parade is one of the largest in the country with decorated floats and people and is televised nationwide.
This event has lightened up the atmosphere of stoic Münster since 1896. The highlight is on Rosenmontag when over 100 colorful floats enliven the downtown. Look for participants from the nearby Netherlands and catch the ceremonial speech of the Prince.
After the parade, the party continues in downtown bars and clubs.
The Mainz Carnival (also known as Määnzer Fassenacht) is the third largest German city to celebrate Rhenish traditions, and possibly the fanciest.
This event emphasizes political and literary humor as well as military critique. Guards protect Prince Carnival as well as the eleven members of the fool’s committee. The Reitercorps der Mainzer Ranzengarden arrive on horseback in replica Prussian and Austrian uniforms. Their band plays a version of the Narhalla March, a parody of Adolphe Adam's opera "Le Brasseur de Preston".
The Mainzer Rosenmontagszug holds the distinction of being recorded since 1910 and is usually broadcast live nationwide.
It is not just politicians that come under fire. In Aachen, many of their Karneval traditions are rooted in poking fun at the military. Though uniform switching and harsher ridicule has fallen out of favor, the Aachen's fool's greeting is a mockery of a salute. Stick with their motto of Spass an der Freud (have fun with joy in your heart).
The Rosenmontagszug (Rose Monday parade) is accompanied by calls of "D'r Zoch kött"! More than 150 groups and 5,000 participants make their way through the Altstadt (old city center) for a total length of 6 km.
For a celebration in the north, Braunschweig is "Lion City". Braunschweig's Schoduvel (“scaring away the devil”) takes place on Carnival Sunday. This event dates back to 1293.