Alaaf and Helau! Carnival in Germany
Where are the best places to celebrate carnival in Germany? Here are some tips, from Cologne to Cottbus.
Kölle Alaaf!: the typical Cologne Carnival greeting can be translated as "Cologne above all!" This cry can be heard throughout the weeklong street festival, which begins in earnest on Thursday and ends on Ash Wednesday. Some 1 million visitors flock to the city on the Rhine to join the celebrations, which tend to take place all day and night, turning the city into a party zone.
Helau, thought to be an old shepherd's call, is used as a carnival greeting today in the city of Mainz. The "Schwellköpp" — oversized papier-mache figures translated as "swollen heads" — have been an important part of the city's carnival for nearly 100 years. They take to the streets during the Rose Monday parades and represent typical Mainz characters. Each weighs about 25 kilograms (55 pounds).
After Cologne and Mainz, Düsseldorf is the third major Carnival stronghold. There, the battle cry is also "Helau." Carnival begins with the annual symbolic awaking of a character known as "Hoppediz," who on November 11, emerges from a mustard pot. It all ends on Ash Wednesday when a doll representing Hoppediz is set on fire and then buried while onlookers wail in mourning.
Hu hu hu Rottweil!
Carnival in Baden-Württemberg, known as Fasnet or Fasnacht in the local dialect, is also important. In Rottweil, it's celebrated according to Swabian-Alemannic traditions. Revelers, called larvae, wear hand-carved wooden masks, walk through the town and call out "Hu hu hu." On the Monday and Shrove Tuesday, there is the "Narrensprung" or "Fool's Jump" street procession.
Ho Narro Konstanz! Hail fools of Constance!
Like Rottweil, the town of Constance on the shores of Lake Constance is small but spirited when it comes to celebrating the Swabian-Alemannic Fasnet carnival. Parades are dominated by the "Blätzlebuebe," the name given to the guild members who dress in "Häs" costumes made of thousands of scraps of material and felt. Their costumes are meant to represent colorful roosters.
Fölsch Foll — Hinein! Throw yourself into it in Fulda!
The German state of Hesse also loves to celebrate Carnival. Some 4,000 participants and floats venture 4 kiolmeters (2.4 miles) through Fulda's inner city, making it the biggest Carnival parade in the state. Yet it's small compared to Cologne, since three times as many participants walk twice as far in the Cologne Rose Monday Carnival procession.
In eastern Germany, Carnival does not have a longstanding tradition. Nevertheless, it's marked with celebrations and parades. In Cottbus, eastern Germany's largest and most cheerful Carnival procession rolls through the city center. The "procession of happy people" parades through the town, with 4,000 participants, 100 vehicles and even horses involved.
Bremen-ites enjoy heating things up with samba rhythms and exotic costumes, creating a Carnival inspired by Rio de Janeiro in Brazil. Some 35,000 people come to the Hanseatic city to enjoy the biggest annual samba carnival in Europe. People on stilts, dancers and live music bands participate in the city procession. However, in 2023, it will take place in April.
Narri Narro München! The fools rule Munich!
In Munich, carnival is known as "Fasching," and is celebrated with balls held all over the city. The "München Narrisch" is a three-day festival held outdoors on and around Marienplatz. Don't miss the dance of the market women at the Viktualienmarkt. The women wear extravagant, homemade costumes that relate to what's being sold at their stalls, whether dairy products or flowers.