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Carnival in Cologne

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Experience the crazy "Fifth Season" in Cologne: Carnival!

Published by Charlotte Mullender — 5 years ago

As a current resident of the beautiful city of Cologne I have to tell you something about the probably best five days of the year in the dome city. Every year, sometime in February or March (always six weeks before eastern), it is time for carnival and then the city of cologne turns into a madhouse.


Carnival actually developed to celebrate a big feast one last time before the season of Lent starts on Ash Wednesday. Today in Cologne the carnival season, also called “the Fifth Season” in Germany, officially starts already on the 11thof 11. (November) at 11:11. That day is celebrated really big in Cologne, similar to the real carnival days. But until then it gets a little quieter, just the real hard-core carnival fans celebrate on the weekends from November to the actual carnival. The “real” carnival then goes from Fat Thursady (called “Weiberfastnacht”) till Ash Wednesday (called “Aschermittwoch”). People start already in the mornings and there are celebrations the whole day through and in the nights there are plenty carnival parties. So if you would want to (although I doubt anybody would survive that... ) you could celebrate nearly 24h during those five days.

Next to its well known international brothers, the Brazilian Carnival in Rio de Janeiro and the Italian Carnival in Venice, the Carnival in Cologne is one of the most famous worldwide. Thousands of people, from the whole country, and even from abroad, gather in Cologne to party five days non-stop. The residents of Cologne are known to be a very cordial and cheerful folk and there is no better time to experience that than during carnival.


In Cologne the carnival is mostly celebrated on the streets, squares and in bars and during those five days you will have a hard time to find a quiet corner in the city- everybody is seriously getting crazy! People are drinking a lot (and if I say a lot I mean a whole loooot), dancing, singing and everybody is celebrating together if they knew each other before or not! The city is incredibly crowded with dressed up people and if you are celebrating with a group of friends, be aware that you won’t find half of them in the end, but believe me, during carnival you will make so many new friends!

The most important things about carnival in Cologne are probably the costumes, the music and the parades. Most of the times people choose and plan their costume(s) already weeks in advance, some people make them themselves and some buy them in one of the multiple carnival stores.

Often groups of friends or families dress up in matching costumes and wear matching make-up. You can go as whatever you want, there are no special themes or anything. The typical German carnival music is not something for everybody! But what I can tell you is that if you like it or not, after five days of carnival you will know every single song by heart, even if you didn’t speak any German before, haha! The songs are often sung by famous carnival bands from Cologne, who sing in the Colonial dialect called “Kölsch”. During the five days there are also often stages where those carnival bands play.

The parades go on the Sunday and Monday (called Rose Monday, which is the climax and the most important day of carnival) and lead through the city. They consist of different groups wearing the same costumes and dancing on and around big floats. The whole city comes to watch these parades and the kids get to catch candy, which people of some of the floats are throwing. Actually the first ever carnival parade was held in Cologne.


A typical tradition in Cologne is also, that every year three other people of the city get a very special role. The so called “Kölner Dreigestirn” consists of the virgin, the farmer and the prince (Jungfrau, Bauer und Prinz) who are elected to reign over the city and its “närrische” (foolish, crazy) inhabitants during those five days of carnival. The virgin is most of the time a dressed up man and the prince is known to be the “most important man of carnival”. They have a lot of appearances in shows, parties, but also in hospitals or children-and nursing homes from November on and during the actual carnival they are part of the big parades and have their own floats. They are loved by the people from Cologne and everywhere they appear they are celebrated.

To sum it up you can say that carnival are five days of craziness, alcohol, party, friends and most of all FUN. Really, it is so much fun! And even if hardly anybody is strong enough to party all five days through, already three or four days of carnival are an amazing celebration worth experiencing.

Get a costume, put on the carnival make-up, buy a “Kölsch” (beer from Cologne) and come celebrate with us!

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