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Culture

Wild Weeks on the Rhine

The people along the Rhine tend to go crazy over carnival. They'll let it all hang out during the time they refer to as the "fifth season".

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The carnival parade is the highlight of the season.

In Mainz, Cologne and Düsseldorf, the Carnival season gets off to an early start.

People here celebrate the official opening of the season in November: on the 11th day of the 11th month at 11:11 in the morning – the number eleven is traditionally associated with Carnival.

A wild week

The last week of Carnival -- the week prior to Ash Wednesday, which marks the first day of Lent -- is when the celebrations become the wildest.

In the Rhine region, public life comes to a complete stand-still during these days.

People are out all day and most of the night, dressed up in colorful costumes.

Foreigners who visit cities like Cologne or Düsseldorf during these festive days often find it hard to believe that there are so many grown-ups everywhere wearing ridiculous costumes, make-up, funny hats and wigs.

Are these really the same Germans who are stereotyped as being Prussian, efficient and without any trace of a sense of humor?

Women's Carnival: Weiberfastnacht

One of the highlights of Carnival in the Rhineland is "Weiberfastnacht" or Women's Carnival.

It's celebrated on the Thursday before Ash Wednesday -- this year that'll be the 7th of February.

On "Weiberfastnacht", women are allowed to do (almost) as they please.

Traditionally, a delegation of women - symbolically - storms the city's town hall in the morning and makes the mayor hand over control of the city to the women.

As a symbol of cutting off men's power on "Weiberfastnacht", women cut off men's ties.

The men are then compensated with a little kiss on the cheek.

Every man who wears a suit and tie is open game on this day - so you'd better wear a tie you don’t really like.

Carnival parades

The Monday before Ash Wendnesday (February 26th this year) is called "Rose Monday".

On this day, Cologne, Mainz, Düsseldorf and many smaller towns put on large and colorful parades.

Gigantic floats are decorated to poke fun at politicians or events that happened during the past year.

The highlight of the parade is always the float with the carnival prince and his court.

People on all the floats throw candy and flowers to the people watching along the way.

In between the floats, marching bands play Carnival songs, the lyrics of which everyone in these cities knows by heart and can sing along.

Hundreds of thousands of people watch the parade go by from the sidewalks and millions tune in to the live coverage on national German television.

Carnival cheers

There are even special carnival cheers in the different cities: in Mainz and Düsseldorf, people will shout 'Helau', in Cologne they say 'Kölle Alaaf'.

And the many gays and lesbians in Cologne have come up with their own Carnival cheer: their greeting is 'Kölle Aloha'.