Cologne Carnival Hits High Gear
Every year Cologne, Germany celebrates Carnival, a tradition almost as old as the history of the city itself. The fasting associated with Lent before Easter is called "Fastnacht" or "Karnival" which comes from the Latin "carne vale" or farewell to meat.
Carnival is marked by parades, masked balls, boisterous parties and excess of every imaginable kind. The Germans start preparing for Carnival on the 11th of November of a year, and things only intensify until Rose Monday, this year on February 7. There are "Sitzungen" (shows) where normally stoic and sane adults dress up as Pippy Longstocking or clowns (or anything else imaginable) and engage in all sorts of musical and dramatic entertainment.
Kids love it. There is a parade where all of the floats and groups marching throw copious quantities of candy to the children along the way. There is another parade where schoolchildren make lanterns out of paper and march through the streets singing songs.
Not everybody is begeistert (enthusiastic) about Carnival. Many feel it is the best time of year to leave Cologne.
For those who dislike Carnival, the usual reasons are the plethora of drunken people on the streets, the broken glass, the sticky sidewalks (after the candy-throwing parade), the cigarette smoke (all rules seem to be lifted for Carnival, including the disappearance of non-smoking zones), and above all, the loud Carnival music.
Carnival music can't be considered music. It is an offense to the ear. Its sheer simplicity and abrasive cheerfulness are obnoxious. The Germans (who historically have produced musicians from the Cologne area such as Beethoven and Schumann) compensate for the quality of Carnival music by turning up the volume and making sure that every shop and restaurant in the entire city is playing the same song (more or less), all day, as loudly as they can.
Then, on Ash Wednesday (February 9th this year), the religious (or the worried) pour into special church services and repent for their excess. This, of course, cleans the slate for next year's Carnival, which is already due to start in nine months.