Berlin 24/7: Carnival in Berlin? A mission impossible | Berlin 24-7 | DW | 12.02.2018
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Berlin 24-7

Berlin 24/7: Carnival in Berlin? A mission impossible

Berlin residents originally from the Rhineland who love to celebrate carnival have tried to import the fun and partying to the German capital — in vain, as DW columnist Gero Schliess observes.

I'm used to the good old Rhineland shouts of "Alaaf" and "Helau" during the carnival season. But "Hei-Jo"? That's what Berliners shout when — and if — they celebrate carnival. I'd have to adjust to that one.

The carnival call doesn't ring out during Berlin's "Carnival of Cultures," either: that colorful, multicultural event takes place at Pentecost, towards the end of May or the beginning of June, and people are more likely to shout "eco taxes — eco taxes" than "Hei-Jo!"

About 1,500 carnival-loving Berliners 

Born in Cologne, I only moved to Berlin two years ago. I'm used to the "real thing" from Cologne, Düsseldorf and Mainz — but unfortunately, that's not how it's done in Berlin. There are plenty of reasons why I moved to Berlin, but, well, carnival isn't one of them.

There's no escaping the noisy, boisterous partying during what people call the "fifth season" in the Rhineland. Meanwhile, Berlin — a great city for partying — is muted carnival-wise. It's so quiet on that front that many people don't even know it's that time of year again.

"There's no carnival in Berlin," a friend of mine complains. He has been living in Berlin for a long time, but originally comes from Mainz, where people do celebrate the traditional festival.

Read more: Carnival: A tsunami of beer, broken glass and caramel sweets

glimpse of carnival parade in cologne (picture-alliance/Geisler-Fotopress)

About a million people flock to the Cologne Rose Monday parade every year...

The city's 22 Berlin carnival clubs and their 1,500 active members would disagree that there's no carnival at all in the German capital.

The association Narrenkappe e.V. from Berlin-Reinickendorf has been around for 40 years. The club has 40 members, says Martina Giersch. One member per year, I think to myself. If you look at the number of members in the Cologne carnival clubs, you'd have to go back to the Stone Age using that system.

Rhineland imports

Carnival came to Berlin in different stages. When Prussians occupied the region in western Germany — including Cologne, carnival's virtual epicenter — in 1815, they couldn't avoid catching the carnival bug.

German reunification triggered the next wave, when thousands of officials and their families — including many carnival lovers — moved from the Rhineland city of Bonn to Berlin, the new capital.

Angela Merkel and carnival delegates in costumed (picture-alliance/Eventpress)

...and every year, the German chancellor officially welcomes Carnival delegations from around the country

Let's be fair, however. Even before the "transfusions" from the Rhineland, Berlin harbored tiny carnival groups. Prussia's King Frederick the Great loved what he called masked balls. It makes you wonder since the king was known to be quite humorless, but in any case he didn't forbid Berliners — a cheerful lot —  to dance or wear costumes. And unlike his predecessors, he didn't raise the beer tax, either. 

From a political point of view, the carnival aficionados in East and West Berlin spearheaded German unity, says Narrenkappe club activist Martina Giersch. The East and West Berlin clubs founded a joint association before the two Germanys were officially reunited.

It appears, however, that there is no unity concerning costumes yet.

In the western half of the once-divided city, people dress up for carnival events, and don't don actual costumes until Rose Monday — unlike eastern Berlin, where people wear fun costumes throughout.

Read more: A kiss for your tie? Why Carnival kicks off with gender power games

'Helau' or 'Hei-Jo'

You will find carnival parties in Berlin from the day celebrations kick off on Fat Thursday through Rose Monday, but the jolliness isn't really catching.

Gero Schliess

DW columnist Gero Schliess

I've given up all hopes of a fun carnival weekend: the small parade with just a few floats that used to move down Berlin's famous Kurfürstendamm avenue on Rose Monday was cancelled this year because of increased costs for security measures necessary as a result of the 2016 terror attack on the Christmas market at Breitscheidplatz square.

Read more: Carnival 2018: A peek at Rose Monday floats  

My friend from Mainz is right to say that people looking for a good time on the carnival weekend need to leave the city. I think I'll head back home to Cologne. Even Berlin's carnival prince and princess (see top photo) are leaving the capital to have a good time in faraway Düsseldorf on Rose Monday.

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