Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Cologne Carnival

Cologne (Köln) Carnival. It's like halloween meets St. Patrick's day on steroids, mixed with Lousiana Mardi Gras and lasting full on for 6 days (sans lewd guys trying to get girls to show their boobs on balconies, but including a wave of 'carnival babies' 9 months later). Comparing carnival in Koln to that of Rio is a bit useless. The one in Koln is definitely unique into it's own. It's one of the biggest in Europe, and the Germans in North-Rheine Westphalia, the state Cologne is in, definitely go all out over it. They even call it their 'fifth season', because technically their celebrations start in November and don't end until Ash Wednesday. Every small town in this state seems to have their own parade. Even the Monday before Ash Wednesday is a state holiday so people can attend the big parade in Cologne.

And in those 6 days you'll see it all. You can walk down many a street in the afternoon, seeing packed lines on the sidewalks so people can get out of the cold and into bars. People in Bert and Ernie costumes or dressed as clowns with their butts pressed up against the steamy glass windows as they dance on a bench to some classic German Oompah carnival songs with a tiny kölsch beer in their hand (kölsch is a style of beer specific to only Cologne, highly akin to water and served in mini .2 L glasses, contrasting completely with it's famous Bavarian counterparts). Trying to find a bar for a nice drink where you can talk easily in the city during Carnival, now that is a challenge which we failed miserably at.

But it's not just for people in their 20s. You will see all ages dressed up and out, from people pushing their dressed up stroller kids to 85 year olds. It's a real tradition, and people get seriously into it. There are the traditional Carnival costumes, like the clowns with the patchwork fabric, or more conservative but still festive suits and dresses for men/women, plus plenty of non-traditional ones, like a group of ghostbusters, for example. Pirates, military guys, dumbo, Jesus, anything with makeup, it's all there.

On Monday ('Rose Monday'), there is a parade in Cologne that lasts 6 hours or so, with something like 1 million people out and about in the streets. They throw out candies from the floats during the parade, mostly. Also, things like oranges, single flowers, and stranger junk like coffee creamer, t-shirts, masks, etc. And not just the kids yell for them to throw stuff, so the atmosphere is quite lively with many people shouting and laughing and excited. Nothing as gaudy and hot and sweaty as Rio, but certainly as festive. I even felt a bit out of place one day not wearing any sort of costume walking around the city.

My friend Laura, whom I met last semester in Gent and is from a city just outside Cologne, was there to show me around. We saw some parades, went to some bars, ate some quintissential german food, and did a bunch of other touristy stuff while at it, even spending a day at her hometown 30 minutes away, Bruhl, for their celebration. One day, Lautaro, my friend from Buenos Aires, joined us, and another evening Monika, who is also from Germany but living here in Gent, joined us. I bought a stupid looking fish hat in Gent, and was given a black robe with some japanese signage, so I went as a sushi chef.  
The sight as you leave the train station.

Smaller neighborhood parade.

Random Person with a bloody face eating a bunny

Monika & Laura

Cool Glasses. Nice fishhead.

Main parade in Cologne. It was pretty difficult to get close..
Germans seem to be professionals at dancing on elevated surfaces.

I exceptionally enjoy the hilarity of the guy on the left and right in this picture.

Group Costume

Hundreds of people seemed to enjoy wearing ponchos, sombrero's and massive fake mustaches.

The Cologne cathedral meets carnival


  1. Very cool - I didn't know about this tradition!

    PS you look great without the beard!

    1. Thanks Diana! Was definitely time for a change!


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