Carnival, also called ‘’Fastelovend’’ or ‘’Fastnacht’’ by the locals, plays an outstanding role in Cologne’s tradition. Rhinelanders are generally known to be people with a zest for life. During carnival, anyone who wants to be part of the celebration is invited to laugh at themselves and to take a short break from daily routines in life.
The “fifth season” of the year is celebrated between New Year’s Day and Ash Wednesday. However, in Cologne people already celebrate the beginning of the new carnival season on the eleventh day of the eleventh month of the preceding year at exactly 11:11 a.m. On a huge stage in the city centre, the designated members of the triumvirate (the Prince, Peasant and Maiden who will preside over the carnival
festivities), still dressed in their everyday clothes, are presented to the public for the first time. After that, carnival remains in the background until the New Year’s Eve balls.
What are the origins of carnival?
Carnival in Cologne is almost as old as the history of the city itself. But it has been celebrated in the organized fashion we know today for only about 190 years. The Greeks and the Romans celebrated joyous spring festivals in honor of Dionysus and Saturn with wine, women and chants. The ancient Germans celebrated the winter solstice in order to pay homage to the gods and drive out the evil demons of winter. In
later times, the Christians adopted these heathen customs. Lent, the period of fasting before Easter, was ushered in by carnival (carne vale = Farewell to meat!). In the Middle Ages, the celebration of carnival, the masquerade, often took on drastic forms, very much to the displeasure of the city council and the church. Bans and ordinances had little effect on the people, who continued their wild and spirited revels.
In the 18th century, the boisterous street carnival was extended to include the “redoutes”, elegant masked and fancy-dress balls in the Venetian style, which were initially the preserve of the aristocracy and the wealthy merchant class. In 1794, Cologne was captured by the French revolutionary troops. But the new rulers allowed the locals “de faire son tour”, or in other words, to hold their carnival parades. The
Prussians, who took control a short time later, were stricter, but it did not prevent the natives of Cologne from cultivating their carnival tradition. Carnival was romanticized, became bourgeois and organized! The new idea of the “Carnival Hero” was introduced, the forerunner of today’s Prince Carnival. In 1823, the Festival Committee was founded, and on February 10 that year, the first Rose Monday parade was held
with the motto “Inthronization of the Carnival Hero”.
After the foundation of the Festival Committee, many carnival societies were founded. Those can be roughly divided into two groups according to their origins and aims. The first group consists of the corps societies, whose members wear uniforms and regard
themselves more or less as caricatures of the military. The second group is the committee societies, whose members also all wear the same jackets in the society’s colours and offer a range of carnival-themed social activities for the whole family. The form and content of the carnival shows called “Sitzungen” developed, the “Bütt” or speakers’ podium was introduced, and the President, or host, held court on the
stage in the midst of the ten other members of the “Council of Eleven”. Starting in 1827, medals were awarded to especially deserving celebrants (this too was initially meant as a caricature of the military). In 1860 the first “Ghost Parade” was held on the evening of carnival Saturday. Even after the turn of the century, the “founding era” of Cologne’s carnival continued. In 1902 the Guard of Honour, which accompanies the Peasant and the Maiden, was formed. In 1906 Prince Carnival received his own Guard of Honour. Other societies were established. Willi Ostermann and his songs and the witty Grete Fluss made carnival in Cologne famous beyond the city’s borders.
The “Sitzungen” with their humorous orators and singers bridged the gap between ,New Year’s Day and the beginning of the street carnival.
These traditions still continue today, nowadays bands such as Bläck Fööss, Die Höhner and Brings are the trademarks of Cologne’s “fifth season”. The “Stippeföttchen-Tanz” of the Rote Funken, a dance that parodies the strict life of soldiers, is world-famous. Today there are approximately 300 organisers such as carnival societies, local history societies and neighbourhood groups that celebrate their home town’s carnival in more than 900 shows, balls and parades. An alternative carnival scene has developed in Cologne. It sets itself apart from the
traditional Festival Committee and the associations and clubs connected with it and enjoy making fun of them. The variety of carnival activities in Cologne shows that this city’s carnival attracts all social classes and groups and is an authentic folk festival. It
is characterized by a form of tolerance that allows everyone to be happy in his or her own way. Its motto is “Jede Jeck es anders” (Every fool is different) – a slogan that is taken to heart in Cologne, not only during carnival but all year round.
The triumvirate of Prince, Peasant and Maiden (also known as the Trifolium) did not yet exist in 1823. Back then, the people behind the romantic revival of Fastnacht enthroned the Carnival Hero as the central figure. In 1825 the Cologne Peasant (“His Heftiness”) appeared independently for the first time in the Rose Monday parade. Ever since the Middle Ages, he has been a symbol of the readiness of the inhabitants of the imperial city of Cologne to defend themselves. He carries a flail and a key to the city. The Cologne Maiden (“Her Loveliness”) also dates back to the Middle Ages and is a symbol of the free and independent city. She was introduced in the Rose
Monday parade of 1823 and is always impersonated by a man.
The street carnival
The highlight is the street carnival, the “Crazy Days”. From “Weiberfastnacht” (Women’s Carnival), which is the Thursday before Rose Monday, to Tuesday. There are a traditional series of shows, balls and parades, with people celebrating, singing and dancing in party rooms, restaurants and pubs. During this time, the whole city is in a “state of exception”. Many public institutions are closed, and the Carnival Prince
On Sunday, the “Schull- und Veedelszöch” (school and neighbourhood parade), consisting of imaginatively costumed groups from Cologne’s schools and neighbourhood associations, wind its way through the city centre. The climax of carnival is Rose Monday, when the big official Rose Monday parade takes place. For about five hours, the showy and satirical floats glide through the city. The parade is
about 7.5 kilometres long and consists of almost 11,000 participants and about 78 bands. The participants throw about 300 tons of “Kamelle” (sweets), 700,000 bars of chocolate and 300,000 “Strüßjer” (small bouquets) to the approximately one million spectators, most of them in costume, who line the parade route. The air is full of the carnival cheer “Kölle Alaaf!”. The origin of this phrase is unclear, but it means something like “Long live Cologne!” and is probably the shortest way to declare one’s love for the Cathedral City. Before daily life returns on Ash Wednesday as though carnival had never happened, the “Nubbel” is burned in many places throughout the city on the evening before. The “Nubbel” is a straw puppet that represents all the misconduct that the fun-loving people of Cologne might have been guilty of during carnival.
The “Crazy Days”
WIEVERFASTELOVEND (WOMEN’S CARNIVAL), February 28, 2019
The streets will fill up early in the morning with Carnival celebrants in costumes
heading for their workplaces or to the Alter Markt.
At 11:11 a.m. Cologne’s street carnival will be opened in the Alter Markt in the
presence of the Cologne triumvirate: Prince, Peasant and Maiden.
At 1:30 p.m. the historic Carnival play “Jan un Griet” will be performed at the
Severinstor in the Südstadt, followed by a parade along the Severinstraße to the Alter
Afternoon and evening: shows and fancy-dress balls
FRIDAY, March 1, 2019
From 4:30 p.m. on, the Cologne neighbourhood associations will march from different
starting points and meet at the Alter Markt. Starting at 6:00 p.m. there will be a
Carnival programme lasting until approximately 8:45 p.m.
Evening: shows and fancy-dress balls
SATURDAY, March 2, 2019
Start the day with a Cologne Frühschoppen (breakfast with a Kölsch) at the
“Funkenbiwak” (gathering of the traditional corps) on the Neumarkt at 10:30 a.m.
Evening: The “Ghost Parade” through the district Buchforst and Kalk on the right side
of the Rhine will begin at 7:00 p.m.
Balls at many locations throughout the city
SUNDAY, March 3, 2019
Starting at 11:11 a.m. the school and neighbourhood parade will wind its way through
the city centre with masked school groups and imaginative masquerades staged by
associations from the neighbourhoods.
Evening: shows and fancy-dress balls
ROSE MONDAY, March 4, 2019
10:00 a.m. will mark the start of the high point of carnival, the big official Rose
Monday parade organized by the Festival Committee of Cologne carnival. Kamelle
(sweets), Strüßjer (small bouquets) and Bützjer (kisses) will be tossed from the floats
to the hundreds of thousands of costumed spectators.
Parade motto: “We march to a different tune”
Evening: merrymaking in party rooms, restaurants and pubs
TUESDAY, March 5, 2019
Noon: Parades of masked groups and associations in Cologne’s suburbs, followed by
parties in the pubs lasting until the “Nubbel” (a straw puppet) is burned with great
lamentation at midnight.
ASH WEDNESDAY, March 6, 2019
Traditional menus featuring fish will be offered in many taverns and restaurants.