Carnival – The best party in the world

In many places in Germany carnival is called the fifth season. It goes like this: winter, carnival, spring, summer, autumn, winter. There are various traditions how to celebrate it in different states and towns, but let us take a closer look at the one in Cologne, in North Rhine Westphalia. Of course this carnival (Karneval) thing is all based on some church customs, as in people party hard to prepare for lent and Easter, but pretty much everyone simply ignores this fact. 

Koelle Alaaf

There are official balls and podium discussions all over the place, but we are going to look at how the people in the street party at carnival. That is the truly amazing thing, it is free for everyone, and everyone who loves to live will love this event. You won’t need to prepare or pay to attend, great isn’t it? Just remember to yell “Koelle Alaaf” as often as possible and you are good to go.

Cologne - perceived as world class

November 11th at 11.11am

November 11th at 11.11am is the official start of the carnival season in Cologne. On a stage in the old town, dwellers can get a first glimpse of the prince (of the carnival), the virgin (a man) and the farmer, who all play a vital role in the carnival traditions. After that day life pretty much goes back to normal until... Fat Thursday.


Day 1: Fat Thursday (Weiberfastnacht)

The party starts each Thursday before Shrove Monday at exactly 11.11 am. From then on there is partying everywhere on the streets and in the bars, which goes on well into the night. People are having fun, and there is hardly anyone who isn’t in fancy dress. Wear whatever you want, dress as a nun, a cowboy, an ape, a worm, a field of flowers, a plane … whatever story you wish to tell with your dress, this is the time to do it. The guys who wear a tie, don’t do this for long, it gets cut off early on in the day. If you don’t want your tie to be cut off don’t wear a tie. Easy. The party dwellers are called “Jecken” in Cologne. Jeck can be translated to “being nuts”.

There is a lot of kissing going on, just go with the flow, there will be no harm done, this is all about being nuts, remember? Don’t be shy to kiss and hug each other and dance and sing and laugh. I might add you really have to love this, otherwise better not go to Cologne during carnival season. Have you ever been to a pop or rock concert and thought “oh well, this is busy?” Imagine the bars to be a bit more packed. There is less space in a bar during carnival than there is at a concert. You will get all sweaty, you will get beer poured over your outfit, and you will get lots of elbows into your face or elsewhere. Just keep on partying, because this is not the right time to pick an argument. 

The drink of the day is Koelsch, a beer brewed in Cologne. It comes in tiny glasses, and you order it throughout the day, not to run dry. Just to be on the safe side, I might add that I hope you know that you can be funny without drinking large amounts of alcohol. There are long lines in front of the bars, better you decide for a bar and start partying, than running around and queuing in the cold. But again, even standing in line can be great, just start making new friends and you will be fine. You might even end up snogging the love of your life (at least you believe this person to be the one … in this very moment).

Soon after lunch time the streets start to look very filthy, don’t let’s go into too much detail, you might well imagine how it looks. Don’t get upset, it will be cleaned over night. You can be a very good person by not throwing away your own rubbish.
This day of carnival is big fun. Everyone is fresh and hungry after a year of waiting for carnival.

Day 2: Shrove Friday (Karnevals-Friday)

Go out at night, find a bar, and start dancing, laughing, kissing, drinking, whatever you fancy …

Day 3: Shrove Saturday (Karnevals-Samstag)

There are smaller music parades in some boroughs of town, go and visit the massive Geisterzug (Ghost parade) at night from 7pm. There are lots of zombies, murderers, and aliens to be seen and met. After the parade people go to a bar to party hard, dance, drink, laugh, and kiss for the most part of the night.

Day 4: Shrove Sunday (Karnevals-Sonntag)

On this family day school children parade in organized parades through the boroughs of the city. At night people go out to party into the wee hours.

Day 5: Shrove Monday (Rosenmontag)

This is an official bank holiday in Cologne. Do you believe this? People get a day off work to party. Literally every store is closed, and some stores even put protecting wooden planks in their windows. There is a 7 kilometre long parade through the streets where wagons most often carry political messages. Bring a bag to collect sweets which will get thrown at the crowds of about 1 Million people lining the streets. As soon as the parade ends, people run into the bars, to do what they did on Fat Thursday, Shrove Friday, Shrove Saturday and Shrove Sunday: Party hard, and dance and kiss like there is no tomorrow.

Day 6: Shrove Tuesday (Karnevals-Dienstag)

On the evening of Shrove Tuesday people flock to the bars again, to party and dance and kiss. Towards midnight they go outside to gather around a massive bonfire to burn a big straw doll, called Nubbel. The poor chap is a scapegoat for all sins committed by the Jecken during carnival. The crowd wails in grieving pain, there are life street percussion players everywhere. It is a pretty sad moment when you realize that you have to wait for one more year till the fifth season starts again.

The day after: Ash Wednesday (Aschermittwoch)

The party is truly over, and it almost seems as if nothing ever happened over the last six days. Another long wait of one year lies ahead of every single Jeck. Life traditionally feels pretty empty today. If you have overdone it a little bit over the last six days, and slid into sin, you simply have to go for a walk around the Cologne Cathedral and all sins are forgiven. So the saying goes, there is nothing other to do than to hope this is true.

Go for a walk around Cologne cathedral - everything will be fine

Top tips Cologne Carnival - where to party

These are all well tried and tested bars/pubs:

Gloria  - Apostelnstrasse 11, 50677 Cologne. Website is in German.
Heising & Adelmann - Friesenstrasse 58 - 60, 50670 Cologne. Website is in German.
Klein Koeln -  Friesenstrasse 53, 50670 Cologne.
Ubierschaenke - Uebierring 19, 50678 Cologne.
Spielplatz - Uebierring 58, 50678 Cologne.
Haus Unkelbach - Luxemburger Strasse 260, 50937 Cologne.

Eat a Berliner in between drinks -  Is it a Berliner, a Krapfen or a Pfannkuchen?

You reckon this would be a tradition you could get used to or does it sound to wild? Can’t wait to hear from you.

From Berlin with love