Carnival in Cologne


Photo: Hannah Müenzer
“Kölle Alaaf” – This call originates from the old toast “Cöllen al aff” in the 17th century, meaning “Cologne before everything else,” and can be heard in almost every street of Cologne at this time of the year shouted out by all carnival revellers.

The month of March 2011 refers to the fifth season of the year, marking a period of celebration over several months. The celebrations begin on November 11th at 11.11am, where the season is heralded by the presentation of three symbolic figures: the virgin, the boor and the prince, known as the “Dreigestirn.”

After the celebration day, festivities rest until after January 1st, when carnival revellers continue their celebration. The street carnival celebration usually takes place over a period of six days around the month of February, or as in this year, in early March. The carnival does not only have a long history in Cologne, but also in other towns throughout Germany, especially in Cologne’s rival city, Düsseldorf.

“Weiberfastnacht” is the first day of street celebrations: it always takes place on a Thursday and is now dedicated to women taking over the regiment, by symbolically cutting off men’s ties and storming the city hall.

The biggest day of celebration is “Rosenmontag” – Roses Monday – with a themed procession of decorated wagons filled with sweets and flowers. About 8,000 people march in the procession, handing out sweets to the cheering crowds, whilst they sing along in the local dialect to traditional carnival songs. “Kölsch” is the local dialect, but also a nationality and most importantly, the traditional beer of Cologne.

Over the six days of celebration, thousands of people gather, uniting the city as one big community. Everybody dresses up in fancy costumes, laughs together, gives “bützjer” – kisses on the cheek – to friends or newly made friends, whilst toasting with glasses of Kölsch.

Midnight of carnival Tuesday sees the burning of the “Nubbel” – a symbolic figure of everyone and no one, and at the same time a symbolic punch-bag for general aggression. One minute, the revellers are singing and dancing in each other’s arms: the next, they are hurling slander at the Nubbel, accusing it of being a vagabond, alcoholic and layabout. Eventually, everybody agrees that the Nubbel does not deserve anything better but the death by burning.

With Ash Wednesday, Lent begins and the carnival season is officially over. Celebrations conclude with a fish supper, singing one last carnival song and sometimes burying the Nubbel once more. From this day onwards, new plans for the coming season are made, promising another fifth season with laughter and joy. The Cologne Carnival is definitely worth a visit. It guarantees an experience you will never forget.

Samantha Gordine


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