Some Interesting Facts about Cologne Carnival

Hi there! I’m Liza. My family had to flee from the war in Ukraine and now we are residing in Germany. I’m learning German as well as traditions and customs of German people. I got to know about a tradition to hold colourful carnivals before Lent starts. I’ve visited Cologne (German Köln) several times and today I’d like to share with you some interesting facts about Cologne carnival.

Cologne Carnival is one of Europe’s biggest, best and oldest carnivals. Every year millions dress up and spend six crazy days celebrating carnival in Cologne. Celebrated in February, Fasching is a traditional German celebration – also known as Karneval or Fastnacht. Carnival in Cologne is attended by 1.5 million people. The carnival season has been celebrated for centuries by people worldwide who have German heritage. Carnivals take place in many cities of Germany.

The 2023 Cologne Carnival took place from February 16 until February 22 on Ash Wednesday. Cologne residents call it “the fifth season of the year”. The main Cologne Carnival events are called the “crazy days”.

Cologne Carnival started in the Middle Ages. It is almost the same age as the city of Cologne itself. In its current form Cologne Carnival has been celebrated for about 190 years. The origins of Cologne Carnival started with Germanic tribes who used to celebrate the winter solstice to worship their gods and exile evil winter demons. Christians later adopted these customs giving them Christian meanings. You can hear the Cologne Carnival motto shouted around the city – “Kölle Alaaf”, which means “Long live Cologne!”. This motto dates back to 1550, when it was said as a toast.

During “the Crazy Days” millions of high-spirited Germans flood the streets of Cologne wearing the wackiest costumes, while the beer flows freely. Parties occur everywhere in Cologne, in the streets, public squares, restaurants and pubs which stay open for the entire duration of Cologne Carnival. They say the world turns upside down during Cologne Carnival, bad behaviour is not just tolerated but totally acceptable. You can spend the days and nights partying away. You can act like a drunken hooligan or mock the elites without consequence. If you want to join the party, then costumes are essential! The wackier and more outrageous your carnival costume, the better! Costumes at Cologne Carnival are more about having fun rather than being fancy. It was possible to see all sorts of costumes – Star Wars characters, fairies, nuns, politicians, ghosts, animals, pirates, celebrities, anime, and movie characters.

The top events of Cologne Carnival this year:

  • On Carnival Friday numerous parties, balls, concerts and other private events took place.
  • Carnival Saturday started with a carnival brunch. People drank beer and watched a performance at the marquee at the Neumarkt. In the evening, a Ghost parade took place.
  • On Carnival Sunday local community groups and schools marched in parades that took place in the city center. People in the crowds brought small presents that were handed to young kids.
  • The Rose Monday Parade known as Rosenmontagszug was the highlight of Cologne Carnival. Thousands of people lined the streets from 10.30 in the morning to watch the parade. It was so colorful with costumed performers, speactators in fancy dresses, musical bands and flowers. The decorated cars or floats slowly made their way down the streets. The floats costumed people threw small sweets and candies to the crowd. We picked up the whole bag!
  • Weiberfastnacht (Shrove Tuesday) was a day with more parades. People dressed in costumes packed into the old town. All the nightclubs and bars in the old town were packed with partying revelers. On Tuesday Midnight the Burning of the Nubbel took place. The Nubbel is a large straw doll and it is the carnival mascot which hangs over many pubs during the carnival season. The Nubbel is the scapegoat for all the sins and wrongs people did during the carnival and the previous year. The Burning of the Nubbel wass the official and symbolic end of the carnival.

I was greatly impressed having learnt this tradition. It is amazing! Ukrainians also celebrate Shrovetide the last week before the Great Lent. . Shrovetide united Christian and pagan traditions.