The origin and history of Carnival in Germany

Once again we reach this time of the year so important for the NRW region, especially for the cities of Düsseldorf and Cologne.

Carnival has been celebrated since the Middle Ages in Germany, however, few people talks about the historical roots of this (great) tradition.

Ancient times

This pagan tradition comes from the ancient Greek and Roman times. During those times, people along the Rhine celebrated a festival in honor of Dionysus, God of wine and festivity, and Saturn God of seed and sowing. The festival consisted of a feast with wine and dance, during which people had freedom to criticize and satirize authorities without any repercussion.

Christian times

When this area got Christianized, the above mentioned festival was included in the church calendar. However, things changed a bit and the feast started taking place six weeks before Easter, just before the fasting or Lent period began.

Lent is the period of 40 days which comes before Eastern in the Christian calendar. This is a quiet, reflective time when Christians remember the sacrifice and suffering of Jesus in his last days. Whereas Easter celebrates his resurrection and it is a festivity time for Christians.

Therefore, Carnival was a time for rowdy behavior, where people could eat and drink in excess as a way to prepare themselves for the fast. And, as surprising as it seems, the Catholic church allowed it.

Therefore, Carnival is nowadays mostly celebrated in the Catholic regions of Germany – along the Rhine.

Prussian times

 It wasn’t until the 19th century, time when the Prussians governed the regions along the Rhine, when carnival was institutionalized.

During Carnival days, people dressed up in the uniform of Prussian soldiers as a satire of them and their rules. The normal order of things was reversed: Party and drunkenness were allowed and soldiers and royals were satirized.

During this festivity a tradition arose. People – craftsmen, farmers, workers… – rose to the position of princes and royals and paraded through the streets delivering food and wine.

Nowadays, we still find this tradition during Carnival time. In the Rhine area it exists different “carnival societies” which have their own regiments, military orders and their own prince. To differentiate one from the others, each of them wear different colors, bands and medals.

Modern times

The carnival season in Germany is known as the “Fifth season of the year” and it officially begins the 11th of November at 11:11 a.m.

Since that moment the “ElferratCouncil of Eleven – together with the different carnival societies start planning the upcoming events.

One of the most popular events, that take place during those days are the “Carnival Sitzung”, private parties – you need to be invited or get a ticket – where people dance, drink and have a great time together with the members of the society which organizes the event.

Relevant events during Carnival

Altweiber

At 11:11 a.m. people stop working and start eating “Berliner” to celebrate the beginning of the most intense Carnival days.

However, Altweiber is women’s day and it is tradition that they gather in the street to have fun and celebrate. This day they are allowed to “attack” men by cutting off their ties.

In the afternoon there are masked balls and parties all around the cities lasting until late night.

Rosenmontag

On Monday the cities along the Rhine celebrate “Rosenmontag”. A parade, organized by the different societies, takes place during that day. Floats depicting caricatures of politicians and famous personalities go through the city with performers tossing out “Kamelle” (sweets) and flowers.

Usually, each float belong to a different carnival society – which work during 7 months to design and build it – and drives dancers, music bands and the “prince guard” all around the city.

Veilchendienstag  

This tradition is mostly celebrated in Cologne area.

It consist in a ceremonial burning of the “Nubbel” – a straw doll – as a symbolical cremation of the misconduct committed during the carnival festivities.

Coming to an end…

Carnival is not a national holiday in Germany, in fact it is mainly celebrated in the region along the Rhine. In cities such as Düsseldorf or Cologne many schools, companies and stores close for the festivities.

If you ever visit NRW region in this period do not forget to greet people as follows:

  • Düsseldorf area: Helau! (instead of “Hallo”)
  • Cologne area: Alaf! (instead of “Hallo”)

Until “Aschermittwoch” and during 5 days, all the cities and towns of this region are full of floats – for children and adults -, music bands, prince guards and costumed people ready to enjoy this festivity. Once the festivities are over – Aschermittwoch or Ash Wednesday – it is time for Lent.

 

Ready to enjoy the festivities? 😉

 

*Please, note that I am not an English native speaker. Therefore, you may find some spelling mistakes in this post. Feel free to let me know it and help me improve my English level.

Carnival season

carnival cologne germany

Carnival is one of the most important events in the NRW (North Rhein Westphalia) region. Probably you have already heard about the Cologne Carnival, the fifth season of the year, one of the most celebrated events in Germany. But, why do germans celebrate carnival in such an intense way? Which is the symbolism of this celebration? 

To answer these questions we need to understand that Carnival has been celebrated in cities such as Cologne from time immemorial, in fact, it is difficult to find more information regarding the first time that a Carnival celebration took place.

However, during the french occupation, leaded by Napoleon, these celebrations were suspended.

In 1814, once the french troops left the city of Cologne, its citizens reestablished the carnival tradition as a part of a German revival. In 1823,  the “Festordnenedes Komitee”, the predecessor of todays Festival Committee, was founded to “organize” the street festival, which was getting out of hands.

The same year, on the 10th of February 1823, took place the first “Rosenmontag” of the city of Cologne. Given its Christian roots the date of “Rosenmontag” is determined by the church calendar. It takes usually place the monday before Ash Wednesday.

Traditionally, the fifth season of the year, is declared open the 11th November at 11 minutes past 11 hour. At that time people stop working and the carnival celebration starts.

Does Carnival take place only in Cologne?

As I previously mentioned, carnival celebrations take place in the whole NRW region, due its catholic roots. Some other cities where to enjoy this festivity are Düsseldorf, Bonn, Aachen and Dortmund.

Although all of the above mentioned cities celebrate the same festivity (carnival)  each of them has its own carnival troupes, parades and celebrations.

How can I celebrate Carnival?

If you want to have some insights about carnival celebrations I recommend you to read the following posts:

5 Tips To Celebrate Carnival

Carnival vocabulary you should learn to do not miss anything

Carnival: The fifth season of the year

5 tips to celebrate carnival

carnival cologne germany

Do you remember I have already talked to you about the fifth season of the year? Yes, carnival is back!! Here I give you a couple of tips so you do not miss anything during the next five days.

When to start the celebration

The Thursday of carnival, also known as Weiberfastnacht, at 11.11h. The first thing you should make at exactly 11.11 is the following:

  • Grab a beer (Kölsch, Alt, etc…)
  • Choose the Berliner you wanna eat
  • Say out loud: Alaaf!! Helau!! (remember the word changes depending on which city you are living in)

Question: Why carnival starts at 11.11h?            

There are many theories about this topic. One of the most famous is related to christian symbology. According to it the number 11 is an incomplete and a sinful number. So from that moment (11.11h) until Ash Wednesday people should celebrate and party, because after Ash Wednesday day it starts Lent time. The period of Lent is the time of purification, illumination and fasting that precedes Eastern.

What to wear 

Some germans have a different costume for each day. Other people they just have a different costume for each year. No matter how, the only important thing is to be dressed up.
carnival cologne germany
Question: What should I wear during the Weiberfastnacht to go to the office?

The official day of women people should go dressed up to the office!! (in most of the companies). But a good costume is not enough. Men must wear a tie so that women can cut it. I am sure that many of you are wondering; why should women cut ties? Easy. The thursday of carnival is traditionally the women´s day. Women are the leaders of the city during that day. According to a research made by the NRW history institute the tie is a status symbol of masculine power and to cut it represents the equality between both genders. Personal tip: Wear an old one during Weiberfastnacht day 😉

Eating and drinking

I think this part of the celebration is also clear in your minds: Beer and sausages.

Lyrics

I would recommend you to google so you can check what to sign, how, when and where. Here I show you a list of music groups who sing popular carnival songs so you can start checking them ;):

Höhner: http://www.karnevalslieder.de/Hoehner/Hoehner.php

Bläck Föös: http://www.karnevalslieder.de/BlackFoeoess/BlaeckFoeoess.php

Kolibris: http://www.karnevalslieder.de/Kolibris/Kolibris.php

Willy Millowitsch: http://www.karnevalslieder.de/Karnevalskuenstler/WillyMillowitsch.php

Monday

Rosenmontag parade took place for the first time in 1823. Since then, a carnival committee decides  every year which would be the carnival theme, according to that decision each troupe must build up its float and costumes for the whole carnival time.

carnival cologne germany

Question: When and where to enjoy the parade?

I recommend you to go to Köln, because its parade is the most famous in Germany, although each city has its own parade. Here I show you a few links where to find more information about schedules and parades. Do not forget to bring a huge bag to collect lot of candies!!

http://www.koelnerkarneval.de/

http://www.karneval-in-duesseldorf.de/

http://www.karneval-in-bonn.de/start/index.html

http://www.oche-alaaf.com/

 

Alaaf!!! Helau!!!