How to Survive in Germany Part 13: Karneval

Surviving Karneval in Germany

This is part of my ongoing series on surviving in Germany based on my own experiences. Just like other countries in the world, Germany celebrates Carnival-that time of partying right before the beginning of Lent. Read on to find out how to survive the Karneval season in Germany.

When does it start?

The Karnevalsession, otherwise called the fifth season, starts on November 11 at 11:11 with a big stage show in Cologne. The Karneval clubs, who plan all the Karneval activities, proclaim the opening of the season and present the Prince/Princesses who will be responsible for the entertainment throughout the season.

From November 12 until January 5 there are no Karneval festivities in order to make way for the Advent and Christmas seasons.

How to get ready

  • Go to the cities that celebrate the most: Cologne, Mainz, and Düsseldorf.
  • Buy a costume or two. All festivities require costumes.
  • Listen to Karneval music to get into the party mood.
  • Eat as many fatty desserts as you can. Try a Berliner, a stuffed donut filled with jelly, pudding, or chocolate, either glazed or with powdered sugar. Also, try a Krapfen, a similar confection baked in oil but not stuffed and sometimes containing raisins.
  • Learn the lingo: in Cologne people yell “Alaaf”, in Mainz and Düsseldorf it’s “Helau.”
Berliner Donut in the Karneval Season
Berliner donuts stuffed with apricot jelly

How to Celebrate

The Karnevalsession is divided into two: Sitzungskarneval and Straßenkarneval.

Sitzungskarneval (Stage Shows)

Starting January 6, the Karneval clubs organize stage shows, where people come in costume to hear music, laugh, and drink. If you don’t live in a town that hosts one, you can still celebrate via your television since the local channels transmit the biggest Karnevalsitzungen.

Straßenkarneval (Parades)

The main Karneval celebrations begin full force on the Thursday before Ash Wednesday with a variety of stage shows and parades featuring decorated floats and music groups.

The festivities start on Thursday, Weiberfastnacht, at 11:11. The people dress up in costumes and go out to the bars and the streets to party. In many cities, work and school stop as early as noon. Traditionally on this day, women dressed up as ugly, old women and left their husbands and children at home and went out. The women cut off the ties from the men, as a symbol of removing their power. Women have control on this day, flirting and kissing men on the cheek (Bützen).

The high point of the celebration occurs on Monday or Rosenmontag. People on floats throw sweets (Kamelle) or flowers (Strüßcher) to those in attendance. In smaller towns, they hand out liquor. The floats usually depict political and current themes in a funny way. These parades are also televised. In cities like Cologne, where Karneval is huge, Rosenmontag is a holiday.

Delise Torres in the Karneval Parade, Mainz, Germany
Me at the Rosenmontag Parade in Mainz

Tuesday marks the last day of celebrations. Some areas mark this day by burning a straw figure or Nubbel. The Nubbel is declared a sinner and burning it represents a cleansing of sorts before the beginning of Lent.

There’s a lot more I could mention but I hope this gives you the basics and makes you excited to visit Germany during the Carnival Season. Do they celebrate Carnival in your region?

Surviving Karneval in Germany

Author: Delise Torres

Daydreamer of Messy Love Stories and Women's Fiction Writer. A Puerto Rican surviving in Germany, she's working furiously to land a literary agent and become traditionally published.

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