Karneval in Germany: Helau!

Carnival is something rather alien to us Brits. You’re probably familiar with the Notting Hill Carnival in London, the Masked Carnival in Venice or the world-famous Brasilian Carnival in Rio de Janeiro, but did you know that Germany also annually celebrates Carnival too? And it’s kind of a big thing. The heart of German ‘Karneval’ celebrations take place in the one and only Nordrhein Westfalen – the biggest of these just happen to take place in Köln and Düsseldorf.

You may be wondering a few things..

What is Carnival?

Well my friends, Karneval, Fasching, Fastnacht, Fasnacht and Fastelabend are all one of the same thing. Carnival is a pre-Lent ‘holiday’ that is celebrated rather grandly. Different areas of Germany call this period of partying by different names, with the Rhineland hosting Karneval whilst Austria, Bavaria and Berlin celebrate Fasching.

When is Carnival celebrated?

Karneval officially begins on 11th November at 11:11am, when the so-called ‘Council of Eleven’ come together and begin the plans for the up and coming holiday. However the actual Karneval holiday take places forty days before Easter, before the period of fasting, or Lent.

How is it celebrated?

It is the job of the above mentioned ‘Council of Eleven’ along with a carnival prince and princess to plan the official Carnival festivities. The main days of celebration take place in the week before Ash Wednesday and start on the Thursday with..

  • Weiberfastnacht “Women’s Carnival”

The Weiberfastnacht is mainly a tradition of the Rhineland, which begins with the city’s women storming into and symbolically sieging the city hall. Other traditional acts of the day include women cutting off the end of men’s ties and kissing any man that might cross their path.

  • Parties, Celebrations and Parades

Carnival is basically an excuse for a long weekend of parties, costumes and lots and lots of drinking. I don’t even want to take a guess at the crazy alcohol consumption that must take place during this weekend, but believe me this is the weekend for living it up in Germany.

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  • Rosenmontag

Rosenmontag hosts the largest and most popular parades of the Carnival period and hundreds of people flock to the streets to watch these processions (the largest of these festivities can be seen in Köln).

  • Fastnachtsdienstag

A few more parades are held on this day but the most vital festivity is the burial of the burning of the Nubbel. Nubbel is a life sized doll made from straw which is supposed to symbolise all the sins that are committed during the carnival season. A number of costumed-balls are also held country wide and many celebrate until Ash Wednesday.

Where did this celebration originate from?

There is no general consensus about where exactly the Karneval or Fasching celebrations stem from but it is believed to have some connection to religious beliefs and needs. The festivities provided Catholics with a season of food and enjoyment before the time of fasting began. In pre-Christian times, the festivities were celebrated as a way of banishing winter, along with its associated evil spirits.

Additionally, many traditions from the Rhineland can be traced back to a number of historical events and in particular the French Revolution when the Rhineland was occupied. As a way of protests, Germans from Köln and the surrounding areas would make fun of the politicians and leaders from behind masks and this can be sensed in Carnival even today, when the caricatures of political leaders can be seen portrayed on parade floats.

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Karneval in Düsseldorf

Düsseldorf has its own Karneval figurehead and he is called Hoppeditz. On 11th November at 11:11am he is woken up from his slumber and starts the new years Karneval session with a witty speech in front of the city’s town hall. Hoppeditz is then sent back to his ‘grave’ in the municipal museum on Ash Wednesday – where he waits until November arrives. This tradition of Hoppeditz as well as the Karnival greeting ‘Helau’ is specific to Düsseldorf (the local greeting in Köln however is ‘Alaaf’) .

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