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Cologne Street Carnival: the Best Time to Visit Cologne or the Best Time to Leave the City?..

Actually the Cologne carnival season starts on the 11th of November. On that day the whole city goes totally crazy. Starting from the 11th of November until the end of the carnival season on Ash Wednesday you can often see people wearing costumes and singing carnival songs in bars and on private gatherings of the carnival associations.
The widely known Cologne street carnival happens during an extended weekend of February or March, which is getting calculated by the church according to Easter and the moon. People, who are religious and know the customs of the christian church, probably know this, but for me the calculation process was a secret so far. Easy: the first Sunday after the first full moon in spring is Easter Sunday, and 47 days before is the last day of carnival - Shrove Tuesday (Mardi Gras). Basically, the famous Cologne carnival time are the six days before Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent (fasting time). Therefore people eat, drink, commit sins as much as they can, before they have to clean their souls and bodies during the forty days of fasting. The madness starts on Thursday...
Carnival in the bars
The madness starts on Thursday with long queues in front of the bars. Already early in the morning people go to the pubs and start drinking. This is not my favourite part of the Cologne carnival, not the because of the drinking, but the because of the bars, which are overcrowded and too warm. It is nearly impossible to stay inside for more than ten minutes. The only way to do so is by drinking ten Kölsch straight away and getting so drunk that nothing matters anymore. In the end the street carnival in Cologne is more of a bar carnival. People do walk and celebrate on the streets, but only while watching parades or going from one pub to another. I guess, it is too cold to stay stay outside all the time, therefore people are more willing to drink and dance inside.
1. The bar is packed, so the late comers (about 1 PM) are queueing outside for their chance to get in.
2. You basically need two costumes: one for outside (something warm), and one for inside (something light). The LESS clothes you wear inside the bar, the longer you can survive the heat. With the beer it's the other way around: the MORE you drink, the longer you are able to stay inside.
3. Kölsch, Kölsch, Kölsch!.. In the bar the crowd won't let you fall down. When you go outside, just find something to hold on to.
Carnival on the streets
4. During the street carnival you look strange if you are wearing normal clothes.
5. People will laugh at you if you don't wear something weird or at least colourful.
6. Those guys have obviously just arrived and haven't had time to change yet.
7. Unfortunately there are too few street musician playing outside. If there were more bands like that, people wouldn't go inside the stupid bars, but gather around and dance on the streets.
8. Dancing keeps you warm and makes you happy.
9. Happy people dancing everywhere!
10. The platform is overcrowded, but in the end everybody did fit into the train! People probably learn to fill the space effectively from their experience in the bars.
Throughout carnival most bars are full, there are parades in different parts of the city and the trams and busses are overcrowded with drunk singing people. Polka, polka, polka! Interesting fact: the DJ who makes the crowd most happy is the one, who manages to play about ten well known carnival songs in a perfect sequence repeating "Leev Marie" at least three times in an hour.
Carnival Monday
Rose Monday is the day of the biggest parade in the city. All the roads in the city center are blocked. The big day has come!
11. You cannot reach the city centre with a car.
12. Monday (as well as every carnival day) starts with a Kölsch.
13. The city becomes a paradise for pedestrians. At least until you reach the crowd watching the parade..
14. Police is everywhere. High security measures.
15. Heavy police trucks and armed officers. The city made a lot of effort to show people that they were safe to have fun.
16. And if something happens, the ambulance is ready.
18. Preparing horses for the parade. The parade is already underway, but the last groups are still a couple of hours away from the start.
20. Each group has different subgroups of musicians, dancers, horsemen, etc.
21. Walking for five hours must be exhausting.
22. Lucky horse riders, they appear to have more fun.
24. There are some carriages devoted to pressing social problems and politics. The goal is to make fun of these problems, news, politicians, modern society.
25. After a couple of hours it becomes hard to distinguish one group from another. Why? Just because they seem to have the same costumes, only with a different colour combination. Blue/yellow, for example.
26. Green/yellow.
27. Green/red.
28. Oh, oh, something different?
29. Or was it a special carriage of the same blue/yellow group?
30. Very few don't follow the trend and do something fun. So why do the people stand for hours watching this colourful, but rather boring procession? Because of "Kamelle!" (sweets).
31. The carriages and bags of participants are full with sweets and flowers, which they throw into the crowd. The carriage with the Jungfrau (a man dressed as a virgin) is an important tradition.
32. People start screaming louder: "Kamelle, Kamelle, Kamelle!" The virgin is usually very generous.
33. FC Kölle also spares no sweets.
34. "Kamelle, Kamelle, Kamelle! Strüßje!"
35. A smart move.
36. After a couple of hours of standing, you need some rest. Imagine, how the participants of the parade are feeling.
37. "Hallo Umwelt!" - says the paper bag. ("Hello environment!")
38. After about six hours the parade is over. At least at the spot we are standing. The last group has still a half the way to go.
40. Some people see carnival as an opportunity to make some extra cash. There is a deposit on the bottles in Germany: € 0,25 for cans and plastic bottles, € 0.08 on glass bottles. With the amount of beer being consumed during the parade one can make a small fortune bringing the bottles to the collecting points.
43. Hm.. So why are there so many glass bottles standing around?
44. Nobody wants to collect the glass bottles! Gatherers search for cans and plastics. Maybe because the glass bottles are too cheap, maybe too heavy..
45. The dark side of carnival: the piss.
46. There ARE portaloos around, but TOO FEW of them. Therefore during the parade there are huge lines where you have to stand at least for fifteen minutes; and the closer the parade gets to an end, the fuller the toilets get. And by the end of the parade they are overflowing and leaking from the bottom. People just don't have much choice than to look for a hidden corner.
47. The last group of the parade is dressed like janitors.
49. The group is accompanied with garbage collecting and cleaning machines. They are very quick and efficient.
50. There is enough to do for all ≈twenty people.
51. It's getting better!
52. Incredible transformation: ten minutes ago there was a huge parade, now you can hardly see a trace..
There are many sides to the Cologne carnival. This was my third carnival, and every time in the end I tell myself that I wouldn't do it again. Done everything, seen everything, even learnt some song lyrics. But when the street carnival starts I get the carnival fever and go to the overcrowded bars, get drunk on Kölsch (Yes! It is possible if you drink ten of them in one hour), sing and dance to the songs I actually hate, suffer from hangover every morning. I tell myself for the third time in my life: "I won't do that again. It was my last carnival in Cologne." Let's see what the next year brings..
55. The Travelling Monkeys always have fun. Keep it up!
The post is written by Inga.

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