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Germany

One Last Gasp of Freedom for Smokers at Cologne Carnival

What's a carnival if not an opportunity to eat, drink and be merry? It's currently the "fifth season" in Cologne, and the usual rules are suspended. This year, that means revelers can flout Germany's smoking ban.

Clowns at Cologne Carnival

Smoking is probably the least silly thing they'll do this weekend

As the Cologne carnival enters its most manic phase with Women's Carnival Day on Thursday, Germany's new restrictions on smoking in bars and restaurants will be temporarily relaxed.

After all, given the general mayhem set to prevail in the city for the next few days, it would be a little incongruous to penalize partygoers hitting the streets of Cologne for their annual carnival-season pub crawl ahead of Rose Monday simply for smoking.

Police have their work cut out for them, stopping fights, breath-alizing drunk drivers and trying to prevent male revelers relieving themselves against walls and in gutters.

Compromise

Revelers in Cologne

Carnival is a chance to do exactly what you want

It's a compromise wholly in keeping with the carnival spirit -- which is all about indulgence before abstinence. Historically, the date of Rose Monday is determined by the church calendar, taking place on the Monday before Ash Wednesday, which in turn marks the beginning of Lent leading up to Good Friday and Easter. So with the prospect of self-control looming, the carnival season is a semi-lawless time when everyone gets a chance to lose their inhibitions.

Obviously, that means quite a few people are going to want to smoke. Moreover, a survey by North Rhine-Westphalia's hospitality industry reveals that 80 percent of bar regulars in the state are smokers.

Legal loophole

As of Jan. 1, 2008, the third of Germans who smoke have been banned from doing so in the pubs and restaurants of most of the country's 16 states, with the rest of the country to follow later this year.

Pubs are now required to confine smokers to separate rooms, although the ban will not take effect in North Rhine-Westphalia, where Cologne is located, until July 1.

But crucially, the state legislature has decided that the ban on smoking in main rooms will never apply during traditional festivals.

Drunk and disorderly

Two clowns kiss a policeman

Police are too busy to enforce the rules

It's just as well. Every year, determined drinkers in fancy dress crowd through the city's pubs and thick clouds of smoke are part of the experience

The tipsy crowds often cheer at any mischief, and can turn hostile towards men in uniform, reports German news agency DPA.

While children enjoy watching the costume parades and the older generation might book a table at a variety show, the young crowd celebrates the six days of high carnival with all-night binges in the city's many bars.

Unenforceable

"The enforceability of a smoking ban during carnival would have been just about zero," Hubert Heller, proprietor of Heller's Bierhaus, and two other leading Cologne pubs told DPA.

Heller said the police will concentrate during the six days on serious crime and he believes bylaws officers will postpone minor complaints until after the organized mayhem has finished.

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