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Carnival festivities underway throughout the Rhineland

A week of partying in what is commonly known as the year's "fifth season" has begun in Germany's western Rhineland region. Carnival features bright costumes and high spirits.

Carnival festivities kicked off at precisely 11:11 a.m. on Thursday with tens of thousands of revelers jamming central squares and drinking establishments throughout the Rhineland, particularly Cologne, Mainz and Düsseldorf.

However, cold weather, which included snow flurries in parts of the Rhineland helped keep the numbers below expectations at outdoor events.

"It really is quieter [than most years]," a spokeswoman for Cologne's police force said, adding that there had been just over 100 arrests for minor public-order infractions by midday on Thursday. Police in Cologne were out in numbers to nip any problems in the bud. They were also supported by officers from elsewhere in the western state of North Rhine-Westphalia.

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This Thursday is known as "Weiberfastnacht," when women traditionally take control of cities that find themselves in the grips of Carnival. On this day, women have the tacit right to cut off the ties of men who are foolhardy enough to wear them into the office. Some victims are said to wear ties they don't particularly like.

The Rhineland Carnival is held each year in the last week before Lent, which is the 40-day religious period before Easter observed by Christians around the world. Between Thursday morning and Ash Wednesday, the Rhineland is transformed by day-upon-day of partying complete with costumes, copious amounts of alcohol and carnival parades.

Observers said this year's edition of Carnival did not appear to have brought any new trends in terms of costumes. As is the case in most years there were plenty of traditional costumes, with clowns being a perennial favorite.

The biggest parade is to be held on Monday, which is known as Rose Monday, through the streets of downtown Cologne. Tens of thousands line the parade route each year to catch sweets thrown from the crowd from revelers on the passing floats. Those same floats are often used to poke fun at German politicians.

Although the Rhineland is regarded as being at the heart of Carnival in Germany, it is also celebrated in other regions of the country, in which it sometimes goes by different names, such as Fasching, as it is known in the south.

pfd/rc (dpa, AFP)

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