The English often considers Germans relatively staid people; efficient, punctual, officious, meticulous, but devoid of humour and party spirit.
However, if you attended one of the German festivals, you would soon realise that they certainly know how to party! One of the most significant events is the Kölner Karneval which ranks alongside Rio de Janeiro and Mardi Gras in New Orleans.
If you get the opportunity to go and you’d like to join in with the revelry, it is beneficial to know the language to avoid feeling as though you are on the outside looking in, so, before you go, take the chance to learn German.
Officially the carnival starts at 11:11 am on 11th November and goes through to the beginning of Lent. Still, the actual celebrations, Die Tollen Tage (The Crazy Days), begin on the Thursday before Ash Wednesday. Alongside the Christian elements are ancient German pagan traditions.
The party is started in front of a packed crowd of costumed revellers in the Alter Markt by the triumvirate of der Prinz (the prince), der Bauer (the peasant) and die Jungfrau (the virgin; always played by a man in a wig). This is Weiberfastnacht when the women take control, and they are traditionally permitted to cut off the tie of any man within reach and to kiss anyone who takes their fancy!
The pubs and clubs will be full of revellers all day long during this period with much singing and dancing. You will need to pace yourself to last the week! If you don’t dress up in costume, not only will you look and feel out of place, but also, some places will not let you in. The traditional greeting during the festivities is Kölle Alaaf (Cologne above all), or you can abbreviate it to Alaaf! You’ll fit right in.
Over the next five days, there will be processions, lavish balls and ceremonies culminating in the Rosenmontag (Rose Monday) parade, which over a million people will attend and where sweets and flowers are thrown into the crowd. The elaborate floats and costumes often poke fun at the government and current unpopular politicians.
On Tuesday, the ‘wind down’ parties and parades will continue until midnight when the Nubbeln, life-size straw figures, is ceremonially burned as the people prepare themselves for the austerity of Lent.