I pretty much knew what to expect when I stepped of the Inter City Express train in Colonge on Thursday. It was the opening day of the Karnival festival. This is a Christian festival which is celebrated in the week before the 40 days of fasting (Lent) prior to Easter, and is Germany’s version of what takes place as Carnival in Rio De Janeiro and Mardi Gra in New Orleans.
Karnival in Cologne is almost as old as the history of the city itself. Cologne was founded by the Romans around the time of the birth of Christ. They celebrated cheerful spring festivals in honor of Dionysus and Saturn with wine, women and song. The ancient Germans celebrated the winter solstice as a homage to the Gods and expulsion of the evil winter demons. Later the Christians adopted the heathen customs. In the Middle Ages, the celebration of Karnival often took on drastic forms. With people dressing up in wild, often deemed to be satanic costumes, and holding a week long party, it was understandable that this was to the displeasure of the city council and mainly the church. Bans and ordinances did little to help, the celebration was wild and spirited. Today it is still a controversial time as far as the church is concerned, but the city has an official Karnival committee that plans and promotes the festival all over Germany.
The first day is Schmutzig Donnerstag, or Dirty Thursday, this is a day where women are meant to have free reign over the city and run about indiscriminately cutting off men’s ties and committing other traditional acts of Carnival mischief. I arrived at the train station in preparation to meet the three British lads, Rick, Howard, and Anthony, that I studied with in Nottingham in 2003. They had never been to Germany before and no doubt had expectations of the prim and proper people that the Germans are known for being. However, this week of Karnival is the one week a year where Germans take their suits off, let their hair down, put on costumes of all sorts and commence in a very unique brand of revelry! Furthermore, most Kölner (people from Cologne) leave work early on Thursday only to return by the middle of the next Tuesday despite the lack of any official holiday. The cities residents have two choices, celebrate or vacate.
In being four blokes that appreciate a good party, we had no trouble getting involved and drinking a bit of the local beer Kölsch. I can pretty much sum up the weekend in one sentence. We drank Kolsch, ate sausages, watched parades, walked through the streets, wore completely awesome but hideously ugly suits, slept a bit, and drank more Kolsch. It was a great weekend, but a tiring one to say the least. I will leave you with the lyrics to the course of the official song of Karnival and it's english translation:
Wir lieben das Leben, die Liebe und die Lust
Wir glauben an den lieben Gott und hab´n noch immer Durst.
We love life, love and lust
We belive in God and drinking way too much"
There are pictures of the mayhem to see from the link to my photos on the right.
Viel Spass, und viva Kolonia!
Karnival Information Website