Are you one of those who believe that Germans are a reserved and curt community? Well, then you most certainly need to visit Germany (mainly Dusseldorf and Cologne) during the “Fasnacht” or “Karneval” festival.
Traditionally, this festival has been celebrated to usher in the period of fasting, or Lent (carne vale literally translates as farewell to meat). The Germans believe in bringing in the spring with a lot of merriment and celebrations galore. Although the festival begins around the 11th of November every year, the last week of February is where carnival peaks. Dusseldorf and Cologne are primarily the epicentres of the festival, but one can experience glimpses of the celebrations across Germany, and even parts of Austria and Switzerland.
Anyways, I do not want to inundate you all with information which is available on the internet, but give you a first-hand recount of my experience at the Fasnacht this year.
Me and my husband spent five days (two in Dusseldorf and three in Cologne) at the karneval this year. I deliberately stayed away from any information overload of the festival before leaving, as I love being caught by surprise at such events. But still, I was sure of one thing (knowing this was a traditional German festival) and that was the overflowing BEER!! (And I wasn’t disappointed)
We got the first taste of the festival on the Dusseldorf central station itself, the moment we alighted our train. The whole station was bustling with people of all ages and races decked up in various costumes. Oh yes, the main attraction of this festival is the costumes! You can come across every imaginable (and unimaginable!) costume during these five days. Ranging from onesies of animal costumes like bunny rabbit, lion, giraffe, zebra, tiger etc.., to fantasy characters like spiderman, batman, harry potter to historical characters like Charlie Chaplin, Mozart and the Queen – you can bump into anyone!!For the next five days, we would keep getting amused and delighted by the plethora of characters surrounding us!
Getting infected with the festival bug, we rushed into the first local shop we found and got ourselves some costumes too! And then spent the rest of the festival dancing, drinking beer and in general merriment.
And then comes Rose Monday – the penultimate day of the festival. This is the day when there are official parades all across the city. We had moved to Cologne by then, and were expecting some nice floats and music. But we were again stumped!!
Yes there were floats and yes there was music...but there was a sweet addition to the proceedings and that was CANDIES and CHOCOLATES!! All the paraders from the floats were showering sweets on the roads where children and adults alike were yelling “Kamelle” (sweets) and “Strüßjer” (little bouquets of flowers) and jumping around to collect them (just as a reference fact – apparently about 3 tons of sweets are distributed on this day in Cologne alone!) . Within a matter of two-three hours I could see the kids’ sacks bulging with sweets and their eyes twinkling with anticipation (we adults were not really immune to this too!)
The parade begins at about 11 am and goes on till 5.30 in the evening, but there were no signs of exhaustion from either the paraders or the spectators!
This brings the festival to the end; and although there are smaller parades and events happening the next day, Rose Monday is considered to be the climax of the Karneval. We stayed on till Ash Wednesday just to do some sightseeing and get the vibe of the festival ending.
One thing that I would like to mention before winding this piece down – even with hundreds and thousands of youth on the roads for the festival, drinking and dancing the night away, I did not come across any pickpocketing, eve teasing or any such nasty mishaps which are very common in public gatherings in our country. Something worth noting and learning from?
All in all a week well spent and something I would highly recommend the next time any of you are planning a trip to Germany in this season!!