Rio de Janeiro, hot weather, Caipirinhas, drums, sparkly feather costumes… This is what often comes to mind when we think about Carnival. However, Carnival is also celebrated in other parts of the world in February. Cologne, Germany’s fourth biggest city, is home to the Kölsche Karneval (Cologne Carnival), which is also known as Fastelovend. Here are 11 fast facts to know:
1. Carnival Season
The Carnival season (known as the fifth season after winter, spring, summer, and fall) starts on 11.11 at 11:11AM. In the Middle Ages the number 11 represented boundlessness and sin. Preparations fade into the background until the season ends with a six day street celebration from Weiberfastnacht (Fat Thursday) until Aschermittwoch (Ash Wednesday), also known as the “crazy days”.
The origins of the name Carnival date back to the Latin word carne vale, which means “meat farewell”. In the Middle Ages, the people of Cologne celebrated Carnival to inaugurate the fasting period. Throughout the years the festivities have become bigger and the celebrations have become crazier.
A distinctive (if not the most distinctive) characteristic of Carnival in Cologne is the costumes. During the “crazy days” people dress up in costumes ranging from animals to pirates to beer cans to fictional characters. There are no limits to the imagination!
The Dreigestirn (triumvirate) is made up of three people each year who are granted the titles of the Jungfrau (maiden), the Prinz (prince) and the Bauer (peasant). The Prince, also known as seine Tollität (his madness), is the highest representative of Carnival. He is the leader of the main parades that take place during the “crazy days”. The Maiden, also known as ihre Lieblichkeit (her loveliness), is traditionally played by a man. The maiden represents the protective mother Colonia. The Peasant, also known as seine Deftigkeit (his heftiness), is traditionally played by an imposing man. The peasant represents boldness because Cologne used to be a privileged, imperial city.
Bützje means kiss in kölsch (the dialect spoken in Cologne). During the “crazy days” it is common to give little kisses on the cheek to one another. However, these kisses are not considered intimate and have nothing in common with a real kiss.
6. Rose Monday
The climax of Carnival takes place on Rosenmontag (Rose Monday) with the main parade. The parade begins in the southern part of Cologne and runs through the whole city. It includes massive floats, many of which have been decorated for over a year. Some of the floats are funny representations of political leaders or topics such as Brexit, climate change, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, or even President Trump.
People typically throw Kamelle (sweets) from the floats. As a result, the first row at the parade is reserved for children who hope to catch as many Kamelle as possible.
8. The Nubbel
During the “crazy days” many bars and pubs have a human-sized puppet, known as the Nubbel. It is made out of straw and hangs above the front entrance. The Nubbel is traditionally known as being responsible for all the sins people commit during the Carnival season. Therefore, on Ash Wednesday these puppets are carried through the city and are burned in a big celebration called the Nubbelverbrennung.
The traditional drink consumed during carnival is Kölsch, a beer that originates from Cologne. The brewing process of Kölsch is a strict one. It must correspond to the German Reinheitsgebot (a series of regulations limiting the ingredients in beer in Germany and the states of the former Holy Roman Empire).
During the “crazy days” only Carnival music is played (and this is nothing like Samba do Brasil by Bellini!). Cologne has a huge variety of its own Carnival bands and singers including Höhner, Kasalla, and Cat Ballou. The songs are often about the city of Cologne, Carnival, or the Cologne mentality.
And finally, what is the Cologne mentality? The people of Cologne are known to be one of a kind: open-minded, friendly, and joyful, especially during Carnival. In Cologne, you can be sure that if you go to a bar alone, within the first five minutes you will have a bunch of new friends!