Cologne Carnival

Party like you were German, oder?

Nuts and Bolts

When: 2014 – February 27th to March 5th, 2015 – February 12th to February 18th

Where: Cologne, Germany – Altermarkt and Heumarkt are popular squares. The Cathedral and train station also shouldn’t be missed. Suedstadt is great for bar hopping.

Why: To party and to experience tradition

Official Website

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Parties, Balls and “Sitzungs” can be found all over the city. Click below to read more…

Dreigstern Cologn Carnival

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Andrew’s Experience at the the 2014 Cologne Carnival. Click below to read more…

Rosenmontag Parade Hat

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Cologne Carnival in the “Champions League”?

Cologne Carnival, like all carnivals worth their salt, is an event steeped in tradition, where the (un)faithful party it up one last time before giving in to the solemnity of Lent. In preparation for my 2014 trip to carnival (Feb. 27th through March 3rd), I took a look at the carnival’s official website and found that Cologne thinks pretty highly of itself indeed. They consider themselves playing “in the Champions League together with the Carnaval in Rio de Janeiro and Carnival in Venice!.” Personally I am a fan of the Salvador Carnival over that of Rio, but still, that’s quite a large Birkenstock to fill, so I went in search of the nuts and bolts of this party to see if it really can stand up to the competition.

What’s in a kiss?

The kiss is a time honored tradition of not only the carnival in Brazil, but also in the colder climate of Germany. Kölsche, as the people of Cologne affectionately call themselves, will often give innocent “Bütze”, pursed lip kisses. In Brazil, the kisses can range from not so innocent “Beijos” to the more violent sounding “mata leão” or kill the lion, which is comprised of a man wrapping his arm around a women’s neck and craning her head to his, where their mouths hastily meet (a rear naked choke hold in MMA terms). Normally, the woman is taken by surprise, and many times the kiss lasts only for a split second. I am not sure if Cologne can really fill the shoes of Brazil on this one. Either way, I am a taken man, so I will only find out through observation from a far.

mata leão Photo by

Bützen during Cologne Carnival
Mata Leao

The Tradition

Germany is an old country, we all know that. Carnival has been celebrated here since antiquity, however it has only been around in its current form since the early 19th century. When things started getting out of hand during the strict Prussian rule of 1823, a couple of old German dudes slammed their hands down on the table and yelled in the red faces of one another “Ordnung muss sein!” (There must be order!). They then organized and formalized the shindig into what is today.  Attention is placed on three principal actors that have pseudo officiating power for the week: A prince, a virgin and a farmer. And guess what, the virgin is played by a man. But don’t worry, he isn’t allowed to have facial hair, because that would be creepy.

The Virgin twirls at Cologne Carnival
Simpson Float at Cologne Carnival

“Crazy Days”

Cologne Carnival season, or the fifth season as the “Kölsche” like to call it, starts on the 11th of November at 11 am. Things then die down to allow for the Christmas season, but pick up again during what are affectionately called the “Tolle Tage” or  “Crazy days”. The crazy days start on “Women’s day”, which is always the first Thursday before Rose Monday. If a man is wearing a tie on that day, tradition dictates that women have the right to chop it off (not at all emasculating). On Friday, Saturday and Sunday evenings, there are fancy balls where you can hide behind a mask with a curvy nose if you feel so inclined. On Monday, it all culminates with the Parade. Children and quite large, otherwise composed men scream for “Kamelle”, or candies to be thrown from the people on the floats. On Tuesday, things calm down a bit with parades in the Suburbs and on Wedensday, say Carne vale, or farewell to meat, and eat a fish dinner as is the custom.

So it’s basically like a big Halloween?

Rio has the fantastic samba schools and Venice has the mystery of the mask, but only Cologne allows you to dress up like a total idiot and get away with it. As I always look a bit goofy, I figure I’ll fit right in. In the states, Halloween is the time to pull out the paper-mache to create a costume, like a wearable “gift-wrapped-present-suit” addressed From: God, To: Women, thus becoming “God’s gift to women”. In Germany, that time is during Carnival. While it appears that even a red nose is enough to pass as getting dressed up, the more outlandish the costume, the better.

The stock clown costume

Ever Popular Lock & Key Costume

This guy seems to have got it right

Photo: Martin Terber

The Party

We should be honest with ourselves, the real reason to go to the carnival is to party. I was searching the internet and found this little guy. Honestly, I’m a bit scared.

Follow the party during Carnival

In two weeks, I will cover the entire week of carnival. Subscribe to follow the party.

About the Author: Andrew Delmenhorst

Originally a cheesehead from Wisconsin, Andrew has lived and worked in Europe for over 6 years. He came to Germany under the guise of obtaining a European MBA from the Mannheim Business School (he really wanted to satisfy his wanderlust). After the program, he worked five years for a large Multinational company, putting in the hours during the week so that he could travel on the weekend. He speaks English and German (Some people say he speaks more of a Denglish), has traveled to 28 countries and has lived in six of them.  One of his travel goals is to attend every World Cup until he dies. He currently writes full-time for Passport Chronicles and calls Brussels, Belgium his home when he is not on the road.