The Ultimate Guide to Carnival in Cologne, Germany
When people think about famous carnivals around the world, they usually think of Rio, Venice or Gran Canarias. You’re in for a surprise, Cologne’s Carnival is an amazing experience you are sure to enjoy!
Cologne’s Carnival, known as the fifth season “Kolner Karneval,” it officially begins November 11th, exactly at 11:11 am. The opening tradition calls for the ‘triumvirate’ made up of the Prince, the Peasant, and the Maiden to make their official public appearance in the city center. However, this is not the actual Carnival season.
The official 6-day festival starts on Weiberfastnacht, Thursday, February 28 and ends on Aschermittwoch, Wednesday, March 6. The most popular day of Carnival is Rosenmontag March 4, also known as Rose Monday. All the big events start at 11:11 am, Schnapszahl, the schnapps number represents a tradition linked to seeing double when playing drinking games.
Now let’s get into the Carnival mood, “Kolle Alaaf,” meaning “Cologne above all!” These festivities take place in February, one of the coldest times of the year. My best suggestion is to dress in layers. Come prepared with red and white clothing to show city spirit but be sure to pack warm clothing.
The beginning of the crazy days starts on Weiberfastnacht, join the crowd for the opening ceremony at 11:11 am in Heumarkt Square and Alter Markt. Here, you will find local bands performing traditional Cologne Carnival songs. Historically, on this day, women are given the ‘power’ and it is common to see them cutting off men’s ties as a symbol of power.
Next visit Zulpicher Strasse, in the student district and Choldwigplatz where bars and pubs feature music all day. The local beer is Kölsch, it is blond, tasty and not too strong. Exchange your money for tokens and get a Kranz wreath at Stiefe, a Kranz is a special tray that holds up to 12 glasses for you and your friends.
Usually, this day is for resting and staying at home with the family or chilling at a cafeteria with friends. I recommend Cafè Jansen or Miss Papki both are very cozy and their cakes are delicious!
Start the day with brunch “Frühschoppen” at Fruhn am Dom. After your stomach is content, go to Neumarkt for the Funkenbiwak, a traditional military show. On Saturday evening, join the Ghost Parade, this committee, born in the 1980s celebrates the “unconventional” events during Carnival days.
On Sunday, you can find many parades passing through the city center starting at 11:11 am. These parades are school-organized featuring costumed students and original masquerades staged by neighborhood clubs. I suggest having a relaxing evening to prepare for the main event the next day.
The name Rosenmontag comes from the German word roose meaning “frolic” and Montag meaning “Monday”. The parade starts at 10:00 am from Severinstor Street, in the southern part of the city, Südstadt. Big floats with horses and bands walk in the middle of the crowd while dancing, singing, and throwing a variety of sweets. The crowd chants “kamelle” and “strüßjer,” meaning sweets and flowers. The first line is reserved for kids holding their umbrellas upside down to collect goodies. Tulips (strüßjer) are given to the crowd, once you get yours, you will be asked for a “bützen,” meaning a smooch, which is the local way to say thank you for receiving a flower. During the parade, people link arms and sway to the Schlager or do the “Stippeföttche,” a traditional dance.
The Veilchendienstag – Violet Tuesday celebrations are more relaxed during the day to prepare for the nighttime events. The “Nubbel” a life-sized rag doll hangs outside of bars around town until it is buried or burned to pay for people’s sins during the fifth season. The largest ceremony takes place in Cologne’s Kwartier Latäng student district where Nubbels from the surrounding bars are burned in a huge festive bonfire.
Ash Wednesday is known as “Ashermittwoch,” marks the end of Carnival season. I highly recommend visiting Cologne’s beautiful Cathedral, Kölner Dom the tallest twin-spired church in the area. Admission is free, be sure to check the operating hours during Carnival days here. During the final day, people take a walk around the city showing off their costumes before enjoying a fish dinner to conclude the “crazy days” and the Carnival season.
Now is your turn to celebrate carnival like a Cologne local. Pick a costume, pack your stuff and head to Cologne to experience the magical essence of carnival, you won’t regret it!