You may have heard a lot already about carnival in Cologne. Before you read much further – yes, it is legendary indeed! Get ready for crazy costumes, old ladies partying their asses off, drinking lots of beer and getting to know the “Kölsch” culture for real.
You probably expected carnival to take place in January or February, but what you should know is that carnival is not a single event. In Köln – or Kölle in the regional dialect – we call it the fifth season of the year. It officially starts on the 11th of November at 11 past 11 (AM) and lasts until the official carnival days before the fasting period, usually in January or February.
The carnival of Cologne has its roots in the Middle Ages. It used to be a celebration to say goodbye to the winter and to sin one more time before the period of fasting starts, which lasts until Easter. The city government did try to stop the crazy celebrations, but people didn’t give up organizing festivities supported by the pubs and brewery houses.
In the 19th century, the inhabitants of the city started organizing themselves in carnival committees, getting together every weekend planning the street parades. These committees still exist and more and more carnival clubs arise every year. The so called “Sitzungen” still take place every weekend, starting in November. During the French occupation of the city, people used the parades to make fun of the occupying forces, mocking their uniforms and their seriousness. If you watch the parades in February next year, you will recognize that each carnival club, especially the dancers and musicians still dress up in this style, which reminds of 19th century soldiers.
Photo by: Rolf Hahn
Also, the tradition of mocking politicians and other powerful people, is still part of carnival today. During the parades you will see self-made wagons making fun of national and international politicians or scandals which happened in the last years.
Photo by: Marco Verch
The official parties in February start on a Thursday and end on a Tuesday. Thursday is the day of street carnival, Monday of the biggest parade. It all ends on Tuesday, when people get together to burn straw puppets at the end of the night. These puppets are supposed to be the sinners, burning for our sins (drinking, partying etc.) we committed during the carnival days. This part is especially interesting, as it is completely different from the carnival atmosphere of the days before. People get together with candles and sing carnival songs and listen to the speech of the guy reading the sins out loud.
A big part of Cologne is also the typical music, which lyrics are written down in the regional dialect (kind of hard to understand if you are just learning German yet). The most famous bands are Höhner, Brings and Kasalla. Just check Youtube to listen to some samples!
After this knowledge bomb, we should remind you that carnival is basically lots of crazy days in a costume, getting drunk with your friends and strangers at the same time and discovering a tiny bit of Cologne’s culture. Get ready for the 11th of November, buy your costume and check out some events. The biggest one takes place at Heumarkt, however, you can also party at Zülpicher Straße in the streets, as it will be blocked for cars. Enjoy yourselves and Kölle Alaaf!