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Cashing in at Karneval

As Cologne gears up for its annual party ritual when millions of visitors descend upon the city for the Karneval, local businesses are rubbing their hands in glee at the thought of big profits.


Here comes the madness!

Germany’s Karneval celebrations are a mighty force, and that’s not just taking into consideration the sights, sounds, and general debauchery -- though they certainly are noteworthy. The festivities also pack a considerable economic punch, at least in Germany's bigger cities.

In Cologne, Karneval central, millions jam the streets for one of the biggest open-air celebrations in the world. They’re not only party animals, but power consumers too -- of hotel rooms, taxi trips, costumes and, of course, alcohol.

Karneval in Köln

Karneval brings big bucks

Estimates vary about the exact amount of cash that Karneval visitors bring to the city. The Association of German Karneval estimates that Karneval revelers bring over a billion euro to a city like Cologne alone every year.

The numbers are telling: 3,000 karneval-related jobs, 100,000 trips to the hairdresser, 300,000 costumes, and 450,000 taxi trips. And these are just the old figures -- the city of Cologne hasn’t updated them in years. One can only imagine what they might be like today: “You couldn’t give me a high enough estimate,” Cologne spokesman Josef Sommer told DW-RADIO. “Surely we get over 3 million visitors a year.”

Clown mit Trommel in Köln

The saying may go, “every jester is different” (in this case, referring to the many who dress up like jesters and clowns during the festivities), but that’s not true when you look at their spending habits.

According to the latest figures compiled by ‘Großen Kölner 1883’, a local paper, the average person spends about € 160 ($ 173) on drinks, food, and souvenirs. Multiply that by 3 million revellers, and that translates into € 48 million.

Costs of pulling off Karneval considerably high

Out of that about € 25,5 million are then pooled right back into the festivities as the money gets distributed among the city’s some 105 historic Karneval associations.

After all staging such a huge event also includes some rather significant costs. Though none in the city like to talk much about the entertainment costs of Karneval, it's a well-known fact that a major amount of the funds are swallowed by them.

A professional comic-jester (“Büttenreder”), who is well-versed in the tradition of humorous rhyming rakes in € 1,300 Euro for a mere fifteen minute performance, while a popular music group costs around € 2,200 Euro.

The Karneval associations, which begin to prepare for the Karneval from the end of the previous season, also have other costs to bear: for instance when the old town stages its traditional “Weiberfastnacht” celebrations -- the “night of the women” or "women's Karneval" when the women have free reign to troll the city streets chopping off men’s ties.

That's when the associations need to dig deeper into their pockets and come up with € 21,000 for security, ambulances, toilets, garbage removal, and more. It’s not unusual for some of the city's bigger Karneval associations to have an annual budget of € 500,000.

Karneval paraphernalia selling like hot cakes

One area where money is obviously not given a thought by hard-core Karneval goers are costumes. It's estimated that they spend about € 30 million on costumes ranging from the outrageous to the downright bizarre. And this is where the smaller businesses benefit the most.

Talk of a recession may dominate the headlines, but merchants say they haven’t felt the pinch. “We don’t feel it at all,” says Frank Schröder, the manager of Karnvalswierts, the city’s largest specialty store for Carnival items. “Precisely because things aren’t going so well with the economy, people -- more than ever -- are in the mood to party.”

In fact, Schröder’s shop added an additional 550 qm of space and twelve additional cash registers, and, according to Shröder, they’re only keeping up with demand. What’s more, his 100 employees don’t find themselves idle during others times of year either: costumes aren’t just worn during the Karneval, there’s also the Christopher Street Day and the Love Parade. Parties -- it seems -- are big business year round.