The streets of the western German city of Cologne have begun to fill with clowns, wizards, virgins and princes as the regional carnival season nears its climax.
The Carnival celebration is hundreds of years old
One of Germany's most important regional festivals kicked into action on Thursday as the renowned Carnival began.
Germans in the western states straddling the Rhine River donned costumes of all kinds, from clowns to cavemen, handmaiden to Iron Maiden, to mark the event, which is centered in the city of Cologne.
Although Carnival officially begins at 11:11 am on November 11, the actual "crazy days" don't get started until the Thursday before Ash Wednesday the following year.
The festivities began at 10 a.m. on Thursday with a street festival featuring traditional music from the Cologne area. At 11:11 a.m., the event was officially opened by the three principal Carnival characters, the prince, the peasant and the virgin - collectively known as the Dreigestirn.
In the early afternoon, revelers were treated to the Carnival play "Jan un Griet," followed by more street parties and a masked ball.
Much effort is put into the Rose Monday float parade
The culmination of the street festival comes on Rose Monday, which this year falls on March 7, when around 1 million onlookers are treated to a colorful - and sometimes controversial - kilometer-long parade of floats, which this year will take on somewhat political overtones.
Like the rest of Germany, the planners of the Rose Monday float parade were taken by surprise by Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg's resignation as defense minister earlier this week.
Originally, the parade planners had designed a float with Guttenberg holding marked playing cards, representing his political game in the German chancellery. When accusations surfaced that Guttenberg had plagiarized his thesis, the float designers made his own doctorate the prize of the card game.
But now that Guttenberg has stepped down, Sigrid Krebs, spokeswoman for Cologne's Carnival Committee, said organizers were starting from scratch.
"The float is now completely obsolete," Krebs said, adding she was confident they would find an appropriate way to keep the float up-to-date. "We anticipated that the story would keep developing. We're flexible enough to change it at the last minute."
Author: Darren Mara, Spencer Kimball (dpa, AP)
Editor: Martin Kuebler