Attention Carnival fans: Be aware that it can be a cruel fate to live in the Rhineland if you are a non-reveler. For when the yearly festivity comes to town it is accompanied by heavy drinking, garbage and aggression.
There is always a rumbling in Cologne when the start of its famous Carnival week approaches. The city's Carnival enthusiasts, known as "Jecken" (fools) in the Cologne dialect, tend to get out of control from the moment Carnival season officially gets underway each November — at 11 minutes after 11 a.m. on the 11th day of the 11th month.
Things were no different for this season's start, when party-goers drank themselves into oblivion — many lying half-comatose in the city's streets, sidewalks and parks, and a startling number of whom were as young as 13 and 14 years old.
So-called "wild urinators" could also be seen peeing on every corner — 172 men and 12 women were caught urinating on house facades throughout the city. Unfortunately, those houses were not outfitted with walls that "pee back" like those installed around Cologne's Central Train Station.
Partiers also vomited (and in some case defecated). And they left mountains of garbage in their wake, many simply throwing their beer cans and bottles onto the street.
One could say that none of this is new. Binge drinking and fights have become the new normal, not just in Cologne but in other Carnival strongholds throughout Germany as well. Yet, it seems that this time around things are especially bad, and the party is just getting started. Cologne's public transport system was forced to suspend service on November 11 due to massive numbers of people partying on the streets and streetcar tracks.
A number of neighborhoods were completely overtaxed by noon. The city's Office for Public Order reported that some groups of partiers exhibited a generally aggressive attitude. And police were forced to keep partiers out of some of the city's more popular neighborhoods for hours due to overcrowding. The situation greatly hampered area-wide control.
Reker: Carneval has become more 'akin to a general binge-drinking event rather than what it actually stands for'
Things are 'wilder' outside
That all prompted Cologne Mayor Henriette Reker to speak up before the start of February's street Carnival. She, too, has noticed a fundamental change to the way people celebrate: "Over the last few years — or rather, decades — Carnival has become more akin to a general binge-drinking event rather than what it actually stands for," she noted.
She said the phenomenon has nothing to do with the spirit of Carnival, although she added that she had no intention of telling people how to celebrate. Nevertheless, she pointed out that if there is nothing more than alcohol to be had, problems are sure to follow.
Read more: 'Angel' flies in Venice
Psychologist Stephan Grünewald, who heads the market research institute Rheingold, told the DPA press agency that such excesses are prompted by the trend of outdoor drinking. "Outdoors, people can be wild in a completely different way," he said. He also stressed, "there is no educational impact in areas that are considered to be run-down." Grünewald claimed that in such neighborhoods the motto appears to be "if a place has a bad reputation then I can urinate wherever I want to."
Getting out of line
Now, the city wants to put an end to such behavior. Simply letting things run their course and hoping for the best is no longer an option for many Cologne residents. "I think people have a higher expectation of public order these days," said Mayor Reker. She made it clear that Cologne has no problem with Carnival, "just [with] those who don't understand it."
Drinking and cheerful celebration are part of every Carnival. Michael Kemp of the Cologne Carnival Festival Committee told the German daily newspaper Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung that it is important to get a little out of line sometimes. But he added that to do so, "there has to be a line in the first place." To ensure that there is such a line, the city is gearing up for the event's three biggest days: Weiberfastnacht (Women's Carnival, on Feburary 8 this year), Carnival Sunday and Rose Monday.
Curbing the chaos
Authorities started by setting up some 700 public toilets; until now that number had been 75. "People who don't use toilets no longer have an excuse," said Engelbert Rummel, who runs the city's Office for Public Order. There will also be "more security, more barriers to control overcrowding, more organized festivities and new rules for party store owners."
Moreover, the 1,600 police officers and security personnel deployed throughout the city will remind party-goers that glass bottles are prohibited in much of the city and direct their attention toward glass recycling bins.
Seen nationwide, it is likely that only a small minority of Germans are actually drawn to the fool's life of Carnival. But that is very different in Cologne, where 98 percent of the city's resident claim to be Carnival revelers — although that number is impossible to confirm.
While the city claims to be doing its best to ensure that this year's Carnival is celebrated in a more civilized fashion, it must be said that those who are not revelers must have strong nerves and a thick skin to deal with it. And those who decline to partake in festivities are often derided for having no sense of humor. But humor, as we know, is a matter of taste.