Your next winter trip: Germany’s crazy carnival season
Germany’s carnival kicked off, as always, back on 11th November at exactly 11.11am, and finished on Ash Wednesday. The bad news? You’ve missed the 2015-16 season. The good news? We’re here to convince you to go next year. You’ll want to get your 2016-17 trip sorted early before the best hostels book out — which they always do.
When and where
While the season lasts more or less all winter, arguably the best time to head for Germany is Shrove Tuesday, when street parties, parades, carnivals and fancy dress gatherings pop up all over the country.
As for ‘where’, the beauty of carnival is that it doesn’t really matter which part of Germany you go to – you’ll stumble over traditional celebrations and customs wherever you are. That said, there are two distinct carnival traditions to be aware of: the shrieking fun of Fastnacht in southern Germany, and the elaborate Karneval parades and costume parties that assault the senses in the west of Germany, especially in the Rhineland.
For Karneval, get booked up in Bonn or Dusseldorf, Aachen, or, best of all, Cologne. Cologne really is the epicentre of Karneval fun, with masked balls and fancy-dress events all season. Over the Karneval weekend, parties fill the city’s streets, and bars open around the clock for fancy-dressed revelers. The weekend’s highlight is the huge parade on Rose Monday. Starting in the south of the city, the carnival floats wind their way through the centre, throwing bunches of flowers, chocolates and sweets — and the odd bottle of Eau de Cologne — at the thousands of costumed spectators lining the streets.
Southern Germany celebrate slightly differently with Fastnacht. With less religious focus, many people dress up as witches and devils hell bent on driving out the evil spirits of the long, dark winter. Many families have wooden masks they pass down through generations which they bring out every year to parade through the streets.
The small town of Rottweil in Baden-Württemburg holds the most famous Fastnacht parade. Fools greet each other with screams of joy and call out to non-fools in various cries and shouts. For outsiders, this means wooden-faced fools and jesters filling the air with shrieking battle-cries and screams of ‘hu-hu-hu’ – the ‘fools’ call’. If you want tradition, it’s all here at Rottweil’s parade of fools. Book up early in the nearby town of Schömberg.
No matter where you’re celebrating carnival, all the festivities will end promptly at midnight on Shrove Tuesday. The following day, Ash Wednesday, is the beginning of Lent and the start of the serious period of fasting before Easter.