Cologne Carnival

May 19, 2017

Carnival season in Germany takes place over what is known as the ‘fifth season’, with parades, parties, and festivities galore. The party period begins at 11 minutes past 11 on the 11th day of November, and continues through into January and February, taking a break for Christmas and the Advent period.

Every carnival is different, with towns, cities, and regions all having their own traditions and styles. Cologne Carnival is one of the most exciting, with a week-long festival in the latter half of February. These aptly named ‘crazy days’ take place between Weiberfastnacht (Fat Thursday) and Ash Wednesday, with the main event on Rosenmontag (Rose Monday).

The Crazy Days

There are lots of different events packed into the main carnival week, kicking off with Women’s Carnival Day on the Thursday. At 11:11am the carnival is officially opened at the Alter Markt, presided over by three traditional carnival figures: the Prince, the Peasant, and the Maiden, collectively known as the Dreigestirn. In the evenings the parties and masked balls kick off, along with much merrymaking in the streets and pubs.

On the Friday, the festivities continue, with the biggest highlight of the day being the Sternmarsch, where a variety of groups appear at the Alter Markt fully costumed. The march begins at 6pm, with colourful ensembles filling the square and singing traditional folk songs.

If you’re feeling a bit spooky you can get involved with the Ghost Parade on the Saturday, part of the alternative carnival tradition, and receive one of their traditional Bützje – a kiss on the cheek.

Another colourful parade takes place on the Sunday, this time featuring local Cologne schoolchildren as well as floats created by smaller carnival clubs.

Rose Monday Parade  

The Rosenmontag parade is the big one, organised by the city’s official Carnival committee. Beginning at 10:30am at the Severinstor, this incredible parade features dozens of huge and colourful floats designed by local organisations, as well as bands providing music and a fantastic party atmosphere.

The parade attracts serious crowds, reportedly up to a million, lined up along the 6km route. The front row is reserved for kids so they can get the best view, as well as be in the best position for catching the sweets and gifts thrown to the crowds. Across the city attendees cry out, “Kölle Alaaf!” which means, “Long live Cologne!”

The party goes on into Tuesday until midnight – then you can attend the burning of the Nubbel, something akin to bonfire night where a straw figure is burned to cleanse the city of its carnival-induced sins. Around 10,000 people watch the main event at Zülpicher Straße, and bars across the city burn their own straw dolls, so you have no excuse for missing out.

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