Karneval in Bonn and Köln

By Miranda Metheny


That’s the carnival cry in this part of Germany, heard far and wide last weekend!

Whoever penned the stereotype that Germans are always reserved and orderly has obviously never seen the Kölner Karneval, the so called fifth-season of the city of Cologne in the German Rhineland. Technically, Karneval begins on 11/11 in November… but then no one really thinks much about it until the week before Lent, when parades are organized, people of all ages hit the streets in costume, things get a little bit crazy!

I was unbelievably fortunate in regards to Karneval. Although pre-Lenten celebrations take place throughout Germany, Austria, and Switzerland, the epicenter of the event is in the Bonn-Cologne area, precisely where I’m studying! In the average year, however, our semester begins shortly after the celebrations. But because Karneval is connected to Easter, the exact date changes every year, and this time it came exceptionally late – so I got to enjoy it during my first weekend in Bonn! The later than average date also helped contribute to some of the best Karneval weather Germany has ever seen – bright blue skies throughout the main weekend.

The Siege of the Washer Women

True to my Missouri roots, I decided to dress up as a Cowgirl for Wieberfastnacht in Bonn! This is one of the most popular Karneval costumes.

The first big celebration is Weiberfastnacht, or the ‘Women’s Carnival’, which takes place on Fat Thursday. Traditionally, the women and children kicked off the so-called ‘crazy days’ with a mini-carnival of their own. Many of the exchange students rushed off to Cologne, but the place to be for the first day is actually Bonn – and more specifically, the suburb of Beuel across the Rhine!

Beuel, you see, was the focal point of a female carnival revolution that took place in 1824. In that year, having had enough of their menfolk’s antics, Beuel’s washer women joined forces with the Old Ladies’ Committee to take control of the festivities! Even today, women dressed in traditional washer-women clothing, led by the Laundry Princess, storm the town hall and take ‘control’ of Bonn’s government for five days. Laundry decorations line the streets in Beuel, and women are free to cut the tie off any man they catch wearing one!


Rosenmontag in Cologne - old traditions, ancient city, modern costumes, floats and flair.

On Rosenmontag (Rose Monday) I followed roughly a million other people onto the streets of Cologne to see the famous parade. For five solid hours, we stood on crowded sidelines screaming “Kamelle!” (Candy!) and “Strüßjer!” (Flowers) as more than 10,000 people moved past us on foot, horseback, or on enormous two and three-story floats, hurling the demanded goodies down to the crowds with incredible energy and efficiency. The total expense of the chocolate and fresh-cut flowers being tossed was staggering to consider – these were no mini-tootsie rolls, but often full sized candy bars or even heart-shaped boxes of chocolate truffles, most specially packaged for the specific Karneval troupe that was passing through.

The backbone of the parade were the military-style corps that marched by at intervals, each colour at a time and beginning with the Blaue (Blue) Funken. Dispersed between the different corps were marching bands, dancing groups, riding schools, and other well-decorated organizations. Many of the floats made political statements, such as a group of houses cowering to escape Google Street View’s invasive, searching gaze. The parade ended with the elected Jungfrau (Virgin), Bauer (Farmer), and Prinzen (Prince), all men, going by in excellent style and an accompaniment of a thousand guards.

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Karneval by the Numbers:

Länge des Zuges (Length of the Parade)
ca. 7 Kilometer
Länge des Zugweges (Length of the Parade Path)
ca. 6,5 Kilometer
Süßigkeiten (Sweets)
150 Tonnen (Tons)
Strüßjer (Flowers)
über (over) 300.000
Stoffpuppen und weitere kleinere Präsente (Stuffed Animals and other small Gifts)
Tausende (Thousands)



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