Cologne: On Feb. 16, the colorful Carnival parade comes to town
By MICHAEL ABRAMS | STARS AND STRIPES Published: February 5, 2015
“Kamelle!” the costumed people crowding the streets yell, as candy rains down from the floats passing by.
“Kölle!” those on the floats cry out. “Alaaf!” the spectators call back.
The ritual is repeated time and again as floats, marching bands and dance groups pass the throngs lining the streets.
It is Carnival time in Kölle, or Cologne, and the German city’s Rosenmontag parade is in full swing.
There are many traditions to Cologne Carnival, and the throwing of candy — the Kamelle — and the carnival greeting — “Alaaf “— are two of them.
Carnival is that crazy fever that sweeps through much of Europe at this time of year. A fifth season, so to speak, of wacky costumes, parties, balls and parades.
It is celebrated in one way or another across much of Europe, and along the Rhine River around two million people line the streets of Cologne, Düsseldorf and Mainz for their giant Rose Monday parades, which are the climax of their Carnival celebrations.
Kölsch, the local beer, flows as the partygoers sing along and dance to the music played by the passing bands and wafting from the floats as they roll by. Guards of the Carnival clubs, dressed in 19th-century-style uniforms, march along the nearly five-mile route or ride horses.
In Cologne the Carnival season starts at 11:11 a.m. on 11/11, but things don’t really get underway until the so-called Heisse Phase — the hot phase — that starts on the Thursday before Ash Wednesday with Weiberfastnacht, or women’s Carnival, when women take over the town hall, party in the streets and cut off men’s ties.
Smaller parades take place on Saturday and Sunday with the big shebang on Rose Monday, two days before Ash Wednesday, when the celebrations are traditionally over.
Savvy spectators arrive early to get a good viewing spot. But children are always pushed to the front row so they can see better and catch the candy thrown by the participants — an estimated 300 tons.
The first Rose Monday parade in Cologne took place in 1823. The Roten Funken, a carnival association descended from the former soldiers who manned the city gates, were part of that first parade, and today its members are still among the close to 12,000 people who participate.
Floats carry dignitaries, celebrities and the officers of the Cologne Carnival clubs and associations; some sport topical themes. Carnival can be a satirical affair where nothing is sacred and the high and mighty often are skewered. Last year, President Barak Obama and German Chancellor Angela Merkel were among those spoofed. Bets are that they will be back for an encore.
Dancing groups, another parade tradition, perform amazing stunts, with men throwing women high into the air and catching them.
The partying doesn’t stop when the parade is over. On the squares, in the pubs and in the old town, along the banks of the Rhine, the celebrations continue into the wee hours of the morning.
By the way, another tradition is the “Bützje,” a kiss made with pursed lips on the cheek. It is nothing but a meaningless peck, but like marching bands and costumes and Kamelle and Kölsch, it’s an essential part of Carnival in “Kölle.”
Cologne’s Rosenmontag parade
• Times: The Rose Monday parade in Cologne, Germany, starts at 10:30 a.m. on Feb. 16, President’s Day. It takes about three hours for it to pass by. Plan to get there early to get a good view, as it gets very crowded.
• Getting there: It’s best to take the train to Cologne, as the city’s main train station is close to the parade route. If you do drive, it’s best to park across the river in Köln-Deutz and walk or take the tram across the river to the city center.
• Attire: Dress for the occasion; it can get quite cold standing outside for hours in February. Wear comfortable but sturdy shoes, because by the end of the day there is unfortunately a lot of broken glass on the ground. You do not need to wear a costume, but you probably will have more fun if you do.
• Information: Go to cologne.de for more information about Carnival in Cologne and the city. Information on some other Carnival events in Germany can be found at: karneval.com/kalender/seite/1#termine_2015_2016