A guide to celebrating carnival in Germany
German carnivals are a mix of merriments and tongue-in-cheek sociopolitical commentary. Discover the best places to celebrate carnival in Germany.
Carnival is one of the most celebrated annual events in Germany. With religious roots dating back to as early as 1926, modern carnival (Fasching in western region of Rhineland and Fastnacht in the southwestern region of Swabia) has developed into a season of frenzied fun with a political twist.
The Rhenish festivities have become especially popular throughout the centuries since they were used as a satiric platform to express rebellious anti-Prussian and anti-French sentiments during occupation. Today, the practice remains strong, albeit with a more lighthearted tone.
The official Carnival season begins on 11 November at 11:11am, when the fool cap-wearing members of the ‘Council of Eleven’ meet to plan activities for the upcoming months. Celebrations stay dormant until after Three Kings Day on 6 January the following year. A string of performances and other comedic acts are staged up and down the regions — but the real party comes to a full swing on the Thursday preceding Ash Wednesday in an event called ‘Old Women Day’ or simply ‘The Women’s Day’.
During the celebration, ‘wild’ women storm the city with scissors in hand and snip off men’s ties. They are also allowed to kiss any unsuspecting man; a tradition that stems from washer-women taking a day off work before carnival to strengthen their presence in the once male-dominated fete.
Following that, Rose Monday (Rosenmontag) is the main spectacle to behold when people of all ages parade the streets, ride floats, play in marching bands and engage in elaborate dances. Staying true to the parodic beginnings of the event, some of the floats and costumed performers depict caricatures mocking politicians and other personalities. Hundreds of thousands of people decked in wacky regalia flock to streets and visit the regions to partake in the custom. The revelry culminates on Shrove Tuesday when costume balls are held in and outside of Rhineland and Swabia.
In 2016, the height of carnival season occurs between 4–10 February. Most German cities celebrate carnival in some form; here are some of the country’s best destinations to see carnival.
Carnival in Cologne
Cologne’s Carnival is perhaps the largest and most well-known in Germany. The city’s aptly named ‘crazy days’ begin on Thursday 4 February and continue to Saturday 13 February with a gathering of the colourful Corps troops. Smaller parades take place the following day but the main event is held on 8 February with the march of Cologne's ‘Dreigestirn’ or Triumvirate made up of three people granted the title of Prinz, Jungfrau and Bauer (prince, maiden and peasant). The trio lead a sea of carousers in a kilometre-long procession across the city.
Other independent performances occur in the historic city during the week-long celebration that fall under the umbrella called ‘Alternative Carnival’. Some of the events include the ‘Stunksitzung’, a comedy show that pokes fun at tradition, conservative norms and politics, and the Ghost Parade.
Carnival in Mainz
The Carnival in Mainz makes up a third of the trifecta of the most popular carnival celebrations in Germany, besides Cologne and Düsseldorf. Apart from the usual focus on merriment, Mainz’ Carnival also focuses on social commentary and political and literary humour. The festivities kick off with a children’s parade followed by the traditional Rosenmontag procession, which stretches for approximately 6.5km making it one of Rhineland’s longest.
Carnival in Düsseldorf
There is no holding back in Düsseldorf’s Carnival, which is famous for mixing fun and not shying away from politically explosive issues. During the event, the city along the Rhine becomes awash with revelry as ladies take over City Hall on Thursday 4 February, a youth procession on the following Saturday, a barrel race on Sunday and finally, a giant Rosenmontagszug procession on 8 February.
Carnival in Aachen
The Aacheners’ Carnival motto 'Spass an der Freud' or 'Have fun with joy in your heart' aptly describes the festivities in the Rhenish town during carnival season. Revellers spend the days between 4–9 February with careless abandon through traditional parades and dances all around the city. One of Aachen’s highlights is the award ceremony for the ‘Orden wider den tierischen Ernst’ or the tongue-in-cheek ‘Medal for Combating Deadly Seriousness’ — a title bestowed on politicians, diplomats and lawyers across Europe who demonstrated a strong sense of humour while in office.
Carnival in Berlin
Berlin also stages its own special carnival once a year called the Carnival of Cultures on 13–16 May. More than 1.5 million people descend upon the Kreuzberg district to pay tribute to Berlin’s cultural diversity. The carnival is a four-day, open-air festival where market stalls featuring exotic food and drinks pop up and world music artists and other international performers play concerts and stage acts all over the city. The festival culminates on 15 May with a large street parade starting at 12:30pm from Hermannplatz and ending at Möckernstraße around 9pm.
Photo Credits: LenDog64 (thumbnail).
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