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Cologne and Rio celebrate Carnival amidst crises

Cologne and Rio, twinned cities for five years, will be in the spotlight as they celebrate Carnival this week. Despite the New Year's Eve attacks in Germany and Zika in Brazil, both cities want the show to go on.

At first glance, these are two very different cities. Rio is a beautiful, sprawling metropolis with more than six million inhabitants and the Olympic Games in sight. Cologne, a more modest city of just one million, will host the slightly less grand Eurovision Young Musicians competition. Even though it is not a metropolis, Cologne is certainly beautiful in its own right.

Unexpected celebrity

Cologne, Copyright: Rolf Vennenbernd

Cologne suddenly became known throughout the world this year

There's one thing which indisputably connects these two cities though, and that's the Carnival. Nothing gets in its way, no matter how serious. And this year was certainly a test.

Cologne dominated the headlines everywhere following the New Year's Eve attacks that led to the step-down of police chief Wolfgang Albers. To avoid any similar events at this year's Carnival, the city has tripled the number of police on the streets.

Zika virus and economic crisis

In the meantime, Rio has had an economic crisis on its hands, and it's taken its toll on the Carnival. Massive budget cuts have been made to the costumes and dancers. The city is also battling a serious Zika virus outbreak that's spreading through mosquitoes.

Rio de Janeiro, Copyright: dpa - Report

Despite the Zika virus and the current economic crisis, Rio de Janeiro will celebrate Carnival this year too

To reassure tourists, the city deployed men to the Sambódromo, a purpose-built parade street, dressed in yellow protective suits and breathing masks as if a nuclear power plant had exploded. The men sprayed chemicals to kill the virus-spreading mosquito and stop it from disturbing the Samba parade with its 80,000 spectators.

While pharmacies in Rio cash in on the demand for mosquito repellent, those in Cologne are doing the same with pepper spray.

The show will go on - in both cities

Like the "Dreigestirn," or "Triumvirate," at Cologne's Carnival, "King Momo" symbolically holds the key to the city at Rio's celebrations. Samba groups carry giant plastic containers full of ice, so the "Cariocas" (Rio locals) will always get a cold beer even when temperatures soar above 30 degrees Celsius.

The Carnival in Rio is known for its colorful Samba groups, Copyright: picture-alliance/dpa/Citypress24

The Carnival in Rio is known for its colorful Samba groups

Despite the festivities, the Rio Carnival has a zero tolerance for unsociable behavior. Anyone throwing cigarette butts on the floor can expect a fine of 187 real (42 euros, $46). And if you're caught urinating on the cathedral, you'll have to cough up a hefty 150 euros. The building will be guarded by a protective fence this year for the first time.

Time to switch off and relax

Clowns conquer Cologne during Carnival, Copyright: picture-alliance/dpa/R.Vennenbernd

Clowns conquer Cologne during Carnival

With so many similarities, Cologne must be proud of their official five-year partnership with Rio, even if the city is struggling to achieve the same glory. But for now it's Carnival season, time to switch off and relax. Cologne and Rio will certainly agree on that. There's a saying in Kölsch, the Cologne dialect: "Et hätt noch emmer joot jejange" - "It all went well after all." Or in Portuguese, "Tudo bem!" - "it's all good." Cheers to that!