Karneval in Köln
I need to write about my adventures quicker, so they do not overtake me.
Three weeks ago Karneval in Cologne (Köln) started. It’s one of the biggest events of the year in this city. It’s what I came to Germany for. Well, besides seeing my family and friends. And it is something hard to describe for people who never experienced it.
Karneval is also called “the fifth season” and it’s the tradition of celebrating before starting the lent that leads up to Easter. Karneval comes from the latin words of carne levara which means “take away the meat” with regard to the time of fasting. Nowadays, it has not really much to do with lent, but it’s more about the end of winter and at the celebration itself. Karneval is celebrated in many different ways, depending on the location, but it always includes costumes or masks, parades and certain music. Cologne even has its own Karneval music scene. Tons of bands specifically make songs for this time of the year. The most famous “Kölsche Bands” are Höhner, Bläck Fööss, Brings, Paveier, Kasalla, Räuber und Cat Ballou.
After seven years in California without Karneval I had totally forgotten about how great Karneval is, how much crazy fun it is. On the first day, the “Weiberfastnacht” (Women’s carnival day) we started around 9.30 am. We had a big, substantial breakfast, lots of coffee and took the subway to the “Südstadt”. We arrived in front of the bar at 10.30 am and there was already a line. We had the first Kölsch at about 10.45 am and at 11 am we were inside of the bar “Bagatelle”. The place was packed within 30 minutes and the party started right off. It’s absolutely fascinating to see all these people, dressed up and ready to have a great time. There is so much positive energy. We sang and danced and drank until about 6 pm, left to get dinner and then found different ‘street parties’. There was one of dozens of samba drum groups, a band just playing in an entrance of an apartment house, there were 3 guys with a decorated handcart with a disco ball and great dance music. So fun!
After recharging in my favorite Sauna “Neptunbad” on Friday, the party continued Saturday. First, “warmsingen” at my friends’ neighbors house with their own neighborhood Karneval’s band. Then again, intake of high fat foods and on to the next bar. We stood in line for 45 min. and were the lucky last ones to be let in. Singing, dancing and drinking from 6.30 pm to 4.00 am. Best part was: There were four of my all time favorite people with me in the same bar! The only part of my body that didn’t like it, were my feet. After 12 hours in cheap red high heel boots (they went really well with my Captain America costume though and I got quite some compliments for them) my toes were literally numb for a week. But it was totally worth it!
On “Rosenmontag” I went to the parade in my childhood town Monheim. At 10 am in the morning they decided to run the parade even though there was a storm warning in the forecast. We ended up with some strong winds, 15 min. of rain and a wonderful rainbow. Good decision. I met a few old friends, caught “Kamelle” (candies, mostly thrown in the crowd) with my family & friends and enjoyed the imaginative and original costumes. And on “Veilchendienstag” (Violet Tuesday), the last day of Karneval, I even was part of a parade myself. We were part of school group in my friends’ neighborhood “Nippes”. Participating in the parade including the costume was their birthday present for me. One of the best and most thoughtful presents I ever received. We were all dressed up as “Strüssje” which is kölsch dialect for a small flower bouquet. I had so much fun being in the parade and giving out sweets and flowers to the people alongside the streets. I felt so grateful to be able to experience something like that with my friends, even though I’m living on the other side of the globe right now. I wished my girls could have seen it, too, though. Here is a video of the parade. We are the two flowers in the first few seconds 🙂
To conclude the Karneval session many people again gather in bars and on the streets for the “Nubbelverbrennung”. The “Nubbel” is a kind of a scarecrow and it is mostly hanging in front of the bars or inside since the first day of Karneval. Shortly before midnight someone in a chaplain costume is accusing the “Nubbel” of various missdemeanors. He’s asking the crowd who they think is to blame and everyone yells: “The Nubbel. It’s his fault.” Therefore he has to burn at the end and Karneval is officially over.
This was a different Karneval for me, living abroad for so many years. It was very special for me, but also very different. I had a few “culture shocks” and sometimes felt very much like being at home but sometimes also different and a bit disaffected. But I think is was a special Karneval for the Kölner (people of Cologne), too. After all what happened during New Years night and after all the media attention Cologne was exposed to, there was a big pressure on the city and its officials. They called Karneval the proving ground for Cologne. The Kölner were highly motivated to make things right, to keep people, women safe. It worked pretty well. There were so many more police men on the streets than all the years before. And people looked out for each other. The civil courage of people was way bigger than it normally is. It was obvious that the Kölner were afraid bad things could happen again. They wanted to prove that their city is not only about this one night that brought all this bad reputation. They used Karneval to celebrate their city, their tolerance and their open-mindedness. You could feel that people made an effort to keep the celebrations safe and carefree.
I always went out with friends, but when my friend left early, she asked one of her other friends to look out for me or to accompany me home. The one time I ended up by myself, looking for a cab, a woman had the car she was sitting in stop to collect me. Her home was half a mile down the street and after she paid, I could get a ride back to my friend’s house. I loved that! That’s caring for others, watching out for others and building a community, even in a million-people-city. And that is what I’ve always loved about Köln. It is definitely not pretty. The cityscape is rather shabby, it’s dirty and the famous cathedral “Kölner Dom” is a never-ending construction site. So many old buildings were destroyed in WW II and the architectural sins in the 50’s didn’t help to make this city more beautiful. But the people in Köln are friendly, chatty, helpful and loyal. They care about their dialect, their beer, their fellow people and their traditions. And Karneval is probably one of the biggest and most famous traditions they have. So even the predicted storm “Ruzika” couldn’t stop Cologne from hosting their big parade “Rosenmontagszug” (Rose Monday Parade). They did it again. They put everything on hold for 6 days, partied and replenished for all the problems this city will have to deal with in 2016. And I was part of it. I celebrated four out of six days. Six days of Karneval, six days filled with fun, costumes, parades, singing, dancing and drinking a lot of Kölsch.
I had the best time and back here in California again, I miss my people, my city and the band Cat Baillou describes it so well with their song:
Et jitt kei Wood, dat sage kennt, was ich föhl, wann ich an Kölle denk. Wann ich an ming Heimat denk!
There is no word to describe what I feel thinking of Cologne, thinking of home!