Every year, many visitors come to Cologne for the carnival. If you’re not a native of Cologne, you don’t have to study a book of carnival etiquette to participate in this cheerful celebration. But it’s certainly helpful to know a few ‘rules of the game’ so that you won’t leave Cologne in disappointment because the “crazy days” haven’t met your expectations. This guide is meant to answer questions such as: What does celebrating carnival in Cologne actually involve? Where do people go? How, and with whom, do they celebrate?
This brief guide also aims to initiate visitors into the “kölsch” sense of humor so that they can thoroughly enjoy the carnival in Cologne in all its facets.
Cologne’s carnival is as old as the history of the city itself, and its current incarnation began more than 190 years ago. The ancient Greeks and Romans celebrated joyous spring festivals in honour of Dionysus and Saturn. Similarly, the ancient Germans celebrated the winter solstice and ritually drove out the evil demons of winter. In later times, the Christians adopted these heathen customs. The period of fasting before Easter, or Lent, was preceded by Fastnacht or carnival (in Latin,“carne vale” means “goodbye, meat”). In the Middle Ages, the carnival celebrations, also known as “mummery”, often became a scene of riotous dissipation. Rules and restrictions were fairly ineffective, and the wild and exuberant celebrations continued unabated. In the 18th century, the jolly street carnival was joined by the “redoutes” – gala masked balls copied from the Venetian model, which were initially reserved for aristocrats and wealthy merchants. Later on, neither the troops of the French Revolution nor the sober Prussians could keep the people of Cologne from continuing their carnival traditions. During the age of Romanticism, the carnival was organized and became an official civic event. In 1823, the year in which the “Festival Committee of the Cologne Carnival” was founded, Cologne celebrated its first Rose Monday parade. A further aspect was added when the “Hero of Carnival”, who is known today as the “Prince”, was chosen. After the founding of the festival committee, carnival societies were founded one after the other. Carnival sessions featuring humorous speeches and songs helped to bridge the months between New Year´s Day and Rose Monday.
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