Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Germany - Rose Monday Carnival @ Cologne

Early in January, my plan to celebrate Carnival in Cologne (Köln) was initially cancelled. I then thought of going to Den Bosch or Maastricht in the Netherlands, but somehow that plan failed too because there was no solid plan. I finally went to Breda on Friday, only to get stared and giggled at in Rotterdam Centraal Station with my costume. Generally, Carnival is only celebrated in the southern part of Holland and practically, there's no one in Rotterdam who celebrates Carnival. Well, a few, but not many.

So, thanks to my Facebook post, my old friend in Cologne said I should come down there, and that I could stay with her (yayyy!!). It was a really last-minute trip planned.

What's so fun about Carnival? What IS Carnival, anyways?

The boring explanation is that it's a big celebration before Ash Wednesday. People in Cologne actually started celebrating on 11 November at 11:11 AM and it kind of gets temporarily suspended during Advent and Christmas period. Then, they get crazy again about 4 days before Ash Wednesday. Typically, the climax is on the Monday before Fat Tuesday (party all you can before you can't for the next 40 days if you are a Catholic, or just party all you can even if you are not religious anyways) and they call it the Rosenmontag (Rose Monday). 

In practicality, going to a Carnival parade, at least in Cologne, means:
1) Screaming for sweets, candies and chocolates,
2) Screaming for flowers,
3) Wearing costumes,
4) Having fun, and 
5) Drinking beers.

Before going to watch the parade in Cologne, make sure you know how to shout these three words:

1) Kölle Alaaf!!
It means "Cologne above all" in Kölsch (a dialect in Cologne). Every now and then you will hear the commentator of the parade shout "Kölle!" and then everyone will respond with "Alaaf!". It's like shouting "Hip-hip!" "Hurrah!!"

And don't forget to wave your right hand to the air as you shout "Alaaf!"

Every songs you hear during Carnival in Cologne is basically about Cologne-is-awesome. Which indeed it is during the Carnival. Here's one of the few Carnival songs that are still stuck in my head: Viva Colonia.

Shout this when you see the paraders getting ready to throw candies, sweets, or chocolates. Or if you don't care about getting flowers. Just keep shouting, get ready to catch, and... hopefully you'll get one. You should be able to get one, at least from those that fell on the ground because nobody could catch it. The parade lasted for about 5 hours on the same spot, so if you really couldn't get any candies... I think it's time to consider getting some exercise to train your body's reaction time.

3) Strüßjer!! (click here for pronunciation)
Now, this one is a bit more difficult. When you shout for Strüßjer, you are asking for a bunch of flowers. Typically, you'll get roses, but I've seen others like tulips and orchids. These are more rare than the confectioneries, but if you are lucky, you can even get as much as 30 stalks or so, and make a giant bouquet out of the flowers you got. 

I myself got in total of 5 stalks, of which all were roses. I earned three of them from the parade, and I earned the other two from other kind-hearted spectators. I was even ready to trade my chocolates for the flowers. I've seen some people trading their flowers for a piece of warm pizza, too. If there is one thing I learned from this parade, that is if you know what you want, you have to find your way to earn it.

The policewomen who guarded the parade also have at least a stalk of flower on their chest pockets.

Aside from getting the sweets and the flowers, watching the parade is also exciting. There were in total of 74 floats, 10.096 participants, 350 horse riders, 117 bands from Cologne, the surrounding area and several other European countries. I actually saw a band from Maastricht and the Dutch post office!

Then, the next but very important question:
What costume should I wear?

You can be literally anything you want to be. I wore a dress that my friend made for me, and it's actually not the best costume to wear during Carnival in Cologne because my neck was open to the cold air. It was not freezing - the temperature was around 10C and it's not as windy as in the Netherlands. But unless you grow up in a country of harsh winter like Russia or Sweden, wearing a dress like mine is highly NOT recommended. But anyways, you can dress up as a citizen of summer, if you can handle the cold. There are no rules to it.

Still, if you stand within the crowd and jump and bend down a lot to catch the goods... you can survive. It keeps you warm.

Some people wear cozy jumpsuits to dress up as animals. I think that's smart because you can still wear hoodies or sweaters inside, and the jumpsuits are warm. Or, you can also dress up as colorful as you can, like this sweet couple:

Some costumes are creative and eye-catching. I could see this Minion from the third floor of my friend's office building, and when I found the guy, I decided to take a picture with him.

And some costumes make me feel that I'm in a manufacturing or a pilot plant (not my favorite, but still, I bet they make you warm).

In the mean time, when you are hungry, get some food from food stalls around. A bratwurst (grilled pork sausage) costs 3 euros, and my favorite curry wurst costs 3.5 euros. It's a bit more expensive because it's Carnival, but you'd buy a bratwurst for 2.85 from a normal shop anyways. 

And, if you're in Cologne, don't forget to try the local type of beer: Kölsch (which also means a dialect in Cologne)

How different is it than a blond beer? Don't ask me, I'm not a beer expert. I don't drink enough beers to properly describe beer flavors. It's certainly not strong, and that's why I like it.

If you stand in the same spot, the parade on Rose Monday will last approximately for 4-5 hours. In the beginning, I was enjoying the parade from my friend's office on the third floor....

...enjoying the parade while eating Berliner, a doughnut with jam filling and sugar icing and powdered sugar topping. This is a very typical snack for the Carnival in Germany.

I really enjoyed observing the floats. 

And while some Carnival associations did not have fancy floats, their costumes are awesome.

The parade ended with Prinz Karneval (Prince Carnival)'s float. It's right after the Prinzengarde (Prince's Guards)'s float. Prince Carnival is also known as "The Prince of Fools", by the way. 

The aftermath?

Streets full of empty candy wrappers, beer bottles (both intact and broken), and all sorts of other trash.

But my friend who has lived in Cologne for over a year said everything will be cleaned up by the next day. Amazing, huh?


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