16 February 2010

Kölle Alaaf! One whole City going Nuts

Alaaf! This is probably the most used greeting in these days in the Cologne area. All are celebrating the most important festival of the year. Cologne Karneval can‘t be compared to any other carnival not even with the Brazilian carnival in Rio that takes place on the same day.

The core idea of this long-established tradition is to enjoy life to the fullest, with exuberance, jollity and high spirits to indulge until Ash Wednesday. In the past Karneval marked the last week before the Christian Fasting time. The original keynote of this feast can be compared to the muslim Ramadan and the subsequent Idu Fitr-Fastbreaking celebration to give you an idea. The term Karneval is believed to derive from the latincarne vale, which translates „Meat, goodbye!“. Kölle Alaaf! translates as "Cologne over all" or "Cologne, get rid of the rest!"

The traditions were shaken up over time. Today one of the most obvious features of Karneval is the masquerading. All people disguise themselves. There are no limits to your imagination of costumes. Fortunately Kölner are open to an costume these days for they do in fact not necessarily reflect anyone's opinion. They're just for fun! For instance , last year I dressed up as a nuclear power plant. I was wearing neon color clothes and helmet. What the people liked most are the sayings and mottos on my mini-reactor. In German the word for radioactive and smiling is the same. So this adds humor. This year I dressed up as swine flu, using a German play on words again (Grippe is German for flu, while GErippe is German for skeleton). Nowadays the vast majority wears fabric-made costumes that are on sale just anywhere in town. Only theKarneval unions and some Karneval enthusiasts make the costumes on their own (like me hehe).
Karneval actually starts in mid November. Since then the Karneval unions gather regularly and hold their meetings. But the Karneval which most people know, only starts in spring or late winter. Then Cologne goes crazy for 5 days. Cologne is taken over by anarchy. The traffic doesn‘t flow, instead so does the beer and alcohol. But of course there are a lot of people enjoying Karneval without alcohol. The police and ambulances are extremely busy. On the starting days some roads are closed. These roads are packed with people and covered with shattered glass.
Now comes the good part: The celebrations proceed with the so called Schull- on Veedelszösch on Sunday and reach climax with the famed Rosenmontagszug. These two are the most important of thousands of parades around Germany. Both parades cover the same route through downtown Cologne. Hundreds of Karneval unions stage their costumes, their decorated vans and throw sweets, flowers and other small gadgets to their right and left, where small kids and adults will try to catch them. All sing along the traditional Karneval songs. The most famous probably being „Viva Colonia...“.

Obviously there are always a lot of people who don‘t know their limitations and loose control. In my favorite place, the Zülpicherstraße, some drunken tilted the plastic toilet booths and started to use them as toys, jumping all over the place and pushing the booths around. The atmosphere suddenly got aggressive with people kicking the booths and finally the police dissolved the mob.

However those are sad exceptions. They're way outbalanced by the overall positive atmosphere. During this time people loose any inhibitions, they cross lines and reach out to strangers. All come down to the same level of making fool of oneself. During these days people in Cologne are all the same: human beings in costumes! Kölle Alaaf!

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