Revelers in Cologne kick off Carnival season at 11:11 | Culture| Arts, music and lifestyle reporting from Germany | DW | 11.11.2010
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Revelers in Cologne kick off Carnival season at 11:11

For many, it's the perfect chance to take off work or skip class and start the day with a beer and a clown costume. Each year, November 11 marks the kick-off of Carnival in Cologne.

A man in a clown costume takes to the street for Carnival

Why the number 11 plays such a big role in Carnival is uncertain

November tends to be dreary in Germany's Rhineland region, but the city of Cologne looks forward to one bright spot in the month each year. On November 11 - at exactly 11:11 a.m. - Carnival begins!

On the mid-November day, it's perfectly normal to leave the house in the morning and run across people in all sorts of costumes along the way. They're often heading downtown, loaded up with beer and liquor and ready to meet up with other revelers to get the festival started.

Carnival is more than just a tradition in the city; it's part of Cologne's cultural identity.

Clowns celebrating Carnival stand in front of the Cologne Cathedral

Clown costumes are a favorite, but everything from witches to cows to politicians also hits the streets

Carnival has its origins in a number of different eras. Ancient Greeks and Romans honored the god Dionysos with a festival featuring "women, wine and song." Germanic tribes also celebrated the shift to winter as a way of driving away wicked winter demons.

Christianity took on the custom later in order to usher in Lent. The Latin root, "carne vale," of the German term "Karneval" roughly translates to "farewell to meat."

Rose Monday

These days, the festival in Cologne is organized and hosted by over 100 local Carnival associations. The associations host events during the year's so-called "fifth season" featuring all sorts of entertainment, from music and dancing to witty political commentary.

In February each year, the world-famous Rose Monday Parade rounds out the Carnival season. Hundreds of thousands of visitors head to Cologne to party for days and participate in the parades.

November 11 is when the fun gets started, but - except for the members of the Carnival associations - the festival remains largely out of sight through the holiday season.

A float featuring Obama at the Rose Monday Parade in Cologne

Carnival revelers with a taste for politics find plenty to chuckle at on Rose Monday

Author: Nina Fisch (gsw)
Editor: Kate Bowen

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