Carnival or Fasching is celebrated in one way or another throughout Germany. Each region has its own customs and traditions. The city of Cologne, which is also home of our headquarter, is particularly well known for its distinctive carnival culture. We give you an insight what you need to know about Cologne Carnival and what traditions the Cologne Party People, the “Kölsche Karnevalsjecken”, cultivate.
The carnival season – also known as the fifth season in Cologne – traditionally begins every year on November 11 at 11:11 am. However, the street carnival, which is popular with Cologne residents and tourists alike, starts much later and lasts a whole week: from “Weiberfastnacht”, a Thursday, to Ash Wednesday. This year, the date falls on February 8 to February 14, 2024.
Watch out: The carnival exclamation is not the same everywhere in Germany. While the carnivalists in Düsseldorf or Mainz shout “Helau!”, in Cologne it is “Alaaf!”. At carnival partys, the president of the organization regularly calls out “3x vun Hätze Kölle...” and the guests shout “Alaaf!” together and wave their right hand from left to right. The exclamation comes from the Middle Ages and means something like “Cologne above all”.
“Bützen” means to kiss and is an integral part of carnival in Cologne. For example, it is used as a greeting or as a thank you when a carnival medal is awarded. This involves kissing only on the left and right cheek. The whole thing is consensual, completely harmless and should not be taken as an advance or invitation.
There are more than 30 official Cologne carnival dance groups. There are also countless smaller groups from outlying districts or the surrounding area. Just like speakers and Cologne bands, they are an integral part of every bigger carnival event. The groups are as colorful and diverse as the carnival itself. There are mixed dance groups as well as all-female and all-male groups. The dancers train all year round to be able to perform on stage at carnival.
Glass is prohibited throughout Cologne city center between “Weiberfastnacht” and Ash Wednesday. For safety reasons, it is forbidden to bring and sell glass bottles. Anyone who does not comply with this rule must pay a fine of 60 Euro.
The Rose Monday parade is the highlight of Cologne's carnival week for many revelers. Around one million people attend the spectacle every year, wearing a wide variety of costumes. Many layers of clothing are the secret, as it is usually still very cold in February. Over 11,000 participants cover a distance of 8.5 km through the entire city on Rose Monday. Every year, around 300 tons of sweets (“Kamelle”) and 300,000 flowers (“Strüßjer”) are thrown. The participants pay for the throwing material themselves. The Rose Monday parade has a long tradition and is as old as the organized carnival in cologne, celebrating its 200th anniversary in 2023.
Cologne Carnival is interactive. It thrives on openness and community. The motto: Everyone belongs. One phenomenon that is a matter of course for the revelers is “Schunkeln” (swaying). If a slower carnival song is played, your neighbor may link arms with you and sway left and right to the beat without asking you first. It does not matter whether you already know each other. Swaying works everywhere – whether you are sitting or standing.
On “Weiberfastnacht”, the Thursday before Ash Wednesday, the street carnival opens all over the city at 11:11 am. Probably the best-known event takes place on Cologne's “Alter Markt”. This is where the Mayor of Cologne, Henriette Reeker, together with the Cologne triumvirate, ceremoniously opens the street carnival.
This Thursday for many Cologne residents, the most beautiful season of the year begins with a “3x Kölle... Alaaf!”. Even if it helps to know a few basic traditions, everyone is welcome to join in the Cologne Carnival celebrations.
We wish all those celebrating a wonderful carnival season! 🎉 You can find more articles about carnival in Germany and other exciting topics in our “Discover Germany” category.