When travellers think of pre-Lenten parties thrown around the world, destinations such as Trinidad and New Orleans spring immediately to mind.
But Germany also celebrates Carnival season, featuring traditions and costumes with unique German flair. It’s a time of wild parties, satirical theatre, elaborate parades, hand-carved masks and costume balls — and it’s often called the Fifth Season. The season officially starts in November, but festivities are low key until the Tolle Tage (Crazy Days), which climax on Rosenmontag(Rose Monday, Feb. 19), the 42nd day before Easter, with big street parades and elaborately decorated floats.
Although Carnival is associated with festivals of the Christian Church, it can be traced back to pagan times when it was celebrated to drive out the evil spirits of winter and encourage the coming of spring and good crops. Ugly masks worn for this purpose are still worn in carnival festivals in southern Germany. Carnival was also a pagan Roman festival, which may explain why Cologne and Mainz, two ancient cities with Roman history, have such large carnival celebrations.
Every region in Germany puts its own spin on the carnival season: in the Rhineland area around Cologne and Düsseldorf, they celebrate Karneval with elaborate parades and comedy stage performances. Cries of Alaaf, Cologne’s Carnival cheer, resound starting on Feb. 15 at the Women’s Carnival, where women run up and playfully kiss the cheeks of costumed strangers and cut off the ties of any man who dares to walk the streets in a suit. On Rose Monday, Feb. 19, scores of decorated floats pass through streets packed with millions of onlookers.
In the Black Forest in southern Germany they celebrate with hand-carved wooden masks and street festivals. Very popular are the Wise Fool masks with a smooth pale face, scary witches with grotesque features, animal masks and masks of mythological characters from local lore and history.
For more information, see www.cometogermany.com.