Carnival in Germany

Don't be surprised in the next couple of days, if everything is different to what you are used to. If people wear colourful costumes and sing songs that you don't understand. From Thursday to Ashwednesday the "Jecken" reign the cities. Depending on the region you live in there are quite a few differences in how carnival is celebrated. We give you some advice that makes you survice these crazy days.Karneval in Köln, Bild: Abbis/DAAD
And suddenly everybodys going crazy! Yesterday everything was still okay but today your professor at university is sporting a red nose, while your fellow students have transformed themselves into rabbits, super heroes or pirates. Welcome to the carnival season!

Actually this very season starts already on November 11th of the previous year but only in February or March the street carnival happens. From so called "Weiberfastnacht" on Thursday till the following Wednesday (Ashwednesday) thousands of people party in pubs and ballrooms and in the streets watching the parades. Especially in the Rhine area - in cities like Cologne or Düsseldorf - the world turns upside down. 

At 11.11 a.m. on Weiberfastnacht the street carnival traditionally starts. Now it's all about "Kölle Alaaf" and "Düsseldorf Helau" for the next six days. Pleae note: Never mess up these sayings because screaming "Helau" in Cologne is a no go. While drinking lots of "Kölsch", the typical Colonian beer, many people prefer eating special doughnuts filled with jam, advocaat or for some very "nice" people even with mustard. 

Concerning costumes you can dress up just the way you want. But leave your normal clothes in the closet during carnival, unless you have a tie you always wanted to get rid of. If yes, wear it on Thursday. You can be absolutely sure that a female will find you and cut it of with a pair of scissors, because that's one of the traditions.

Of course music plays a very important part during this jolly party. The latest tracks from the charts are substituted by songs from typical carnival bands. In Cologne for example the Höhner, Brings, Bläck Föös and the Paveier are very famous. Although they sing in German, you will have difficulties understanding a word because the use the colonian dialect.

Speaking of dialects: Even though nobody expects you to memorize all these texts, you should remember these five terms because you will come across them all the time:

Bützchen, Bild: Harold R/Flickr.jpg

  1. Jecken = That's the people celebrating carnival
  2. Bützjer = Kisses on the cheek are a common thing during street carnival due to the "Decleration of the freedom of kissing" that lasts till Ash Wednesday.
  3. Strüssjer = Flowers thrown during the parades. Mostly roses, tulips and carnations
  4. Kamelle = Sweets, also thrown during the parades. Don't forget to bring a bag.
  5. Büggel = bag. You'll need one for all the Kamelle you will catch.

The highlight of this colourful event is the big parade on Rose Monday. Der Höhepunkt des bunten Treibens ist der Umzug am Rosenmontag. For 178 years it has taken place in Cologne. It starts of course at 11.11 a.m. with a distance of 6.5 kilometers all across the city. The parade itself is even a bit longer than that with 10 000 participants and 100 beautiful pageantry wagons. Over one Million people are in the streets cheering and celebrating it.

Cologne Rose Monday Parade


Fastnacht instead of carnival

The people in the Rhineland call it carnival. In parts of the South, East and North of Germany the same is called "Fastnacht" or "Fasching". Fastnacht, Bild: Lendogs64/flickrOther than in Cologne the season starts a bit later officially on January 6. Although the street carnival also starts on Thursday before Ash Wednesday, it is also called differently namely „Schmotziger Donnerstag“ ("Dirty Thursday").
From 11.11 a.m. on Thursday morning till the following Tuesday it's all about partying. There are big parades in the South as well called "Narrensprung". Not only this name but also some traditions are different from the once in Cologne: For example the costumes are way more traditional than in Cologne or Düsseldorf. Instead of political mocking you will come across lots of devils, witches, hoaxes and other mysterious creatures. All of these have a very long tradition. Sometimes costumes are even handed down for generations. While people in Cologne have to find a new costume every year, the hoaxes of the Fastnacht stick to one and the same costume mostly their whole lives. Instead of screaming "Helau" or "Alaaf" it's „Ju-Hu-Hu“ or „Narri-Narro“ during Fastnacht.

Traditional "Narrensprung" in the city of Rottweil

No matter where and how you are going to celebrate carnival: We wish you lots of fun and crazy days. Remember: On Ash Wednesday it's over!
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