Celebrating carnival is a must in Germany's Rhineland. But what about its environmental impact? A village outside Cologne is making carnival greener - without spoiling any of the fun.
Once a year, in the Rhineland region of western Germany, all the clichés about Germans being serious, humorless types collapse. It's carnival time, and the streets throng with joyful crowds in extravagant costumes, neon wigs, masks, make-up and glitter.
The festivities reach their climax on Rose Monday, when crowds swell to more than 10,000 people and sweets and flowers are thrown from colorful floats. The Festival Committee of the Cologne Carnival estimates that around 300 tons of confectionery will be distributed this year in Cologne alone.
Pollution - a year-round problem
But the air carnival goers breathe leaves a lot to be desired. When it comes to air pollution, carnival center Cologne is not far behind Germany's worst offender, Stuttgart.
"Cologne is one of the most polluted cities in Germany," Stefan Kreutzberger, project manager with the climate protection group Climate Protection Community Cologne, told DW.
The European Commission recently urged Germany to reduce nitrogen dioxide pollution, which exceeded European limits in 28 areas of Germany - including Cologne.
And with over a million inhabitants, the problem is unlikely to go away any time soon. But Kreutzberger stresses that the German government's 2020 Climate Protection Action Program aims to drastically cut emissions by 2020 - particularly from energy and transport.
Trees for a greener carnival
The farming village of Morenhoven, around 40 kilometers from the city of Cologne, has fewer than 2,000 residents. But one thing it has in common with its populous neighbor is a passion for carnival.
The parade here is tiny. But that hasn't stopped local environmentalists from working to make it more sustainable. They calculated how much CO2 the carnival floats would emit and have planted trees to compensate.
It may be a small gesture given Morenhoven's share in German air pollution doesn't amount to much. But it marks a bigger shift in awareness.
"We wanted to diminish our carnival's impact on the environment," Norbert Sauren, president of the local organizational committee, told DW.
The parade's vehicles produce an estimated 100 kilograms of CO2, which will be offset by eight trees. According to the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP), an average tree absorbs up 12 kilograms of CO2 each year.
But for Sauren, this isn't about numbers. The aim is to show that everyone can do their bit.
The committee is also introducing low-energy lighting, nesting boxes for birds and "hotels" for insects, and easier access to the local woods as part of its efforts to make the village more environmentally friendly.
And the new trees in Morenhoven aren't just any old trees. They are traditional, regional varieties of apple and pear, which are hard to find these days.
"When I was a kid, I used to eat these kinds of fruit," Sauren reminisces. "But nowadays they have almost gone extinct."
Peter Meyer is head of the regional nature conservation center of the German Nature and Biodiversity Conservation Union (NABU). He was in charge of planting the trees, which he says will also provide a home for wildlife, particularly birds and rodents.
"Biodiversity in the area has fallen starkly in recent years," Meyer told DW. "Any measure to help wildlife survive is welcome."
Small steps to a greener planet
Back in Cologne, Kreutzberger is keen to stress that the most important route to a sustainable carnival is keeping consumption in check.
"For instance, do I need to buy a new carnival costume?" he asks. There are secondhand shops where you can pick up a costume, he points out, or just get creative and make your own from old clothes you already have.
Then there's the bitter-sweet issue of all that candy. The Jecke Fairsuchung group calculates that almost 60 percent of raw materials that went into making the Rose Monday sweets - for instance, cacao - came from developing countries and were not sustainably produced.
Instead, the group offers fair-trade products that benefit small farmers in these countries, are largely organically grown, and use environmentally friendly packaging.
If we all changed our own lifestyles just a little the world would be a better place, Kreutzberger is convinced. And what better a time to start than carnival?