Carnival — In Germany?

Carnival celebrations are best known for bright colors, self-expression, and pulsating rhythms, thanks to the city of New Orleans. Brazil’s Carnival is also famous, and, of course, there is Trinidad’s “Jump Up.”

New Orleans-styled revelry occurs in many parts of the world. Celebrations with religious histories often begin on or near the Feast of the Epiphany, also known as Three Kings Day, in early January and continue until Easter. In theory, these celebrations are the last chance to let one’s hair down before Lent’s sober reflections commence.

Germany’s pre-Lent carnival, or Karneval, is called the Fifth Season and has been celebrated since the Middle Ages. German Karneval celebrations vary by region and most are concentrated in the country’s Catholic strongholds. Unlike Mardi Gras, Germany’s main celebrations occur on Rosenmontag, or Rose Monday.

The largest celebration in Germany is in Cologne, where more than 1 million people participate. For 400 years, Black Forest villages in this region have hosted noisy Karneval celebrations called Fastnacht or Fasching (Eve of the Beginning of the Fast), drawing hundreds of people dressed in costume. They gather to rid the streets of winter’s demons with switch brooms, crack whips, and Saubloderns (inflated pig’s bladders attached to a stick). During the week prior to Rosenmontag, revelers — mostly men — proceed through the town center, heavily adorned with bells, in a nighttime parade that can be heard from every point in the village.

Further south, near the Swiss border, is the town of Konstanz on the shores of Lake Konstanz and the banks of the Rhine River. During Karneval season, this town of 80,000 is dressed in costume, and residents congregate in the old quarter, which remains unchanged since the Middle Ages. By night, order vanishes, and revelers rush through the streets while holding lit candles and singing folk tunes. For refreshment, beer and sausages are everywhere. Rest from the revelry at the luxurious Steigenberger Insellhotel, situated on its own private island on Lake Konstanz. From the elegant “Seerestaurant,” enjoy views of the Swiss Alps across Lake Konstanz, while dining on regional dishes and international cuisine.

On the Thursday prior to Rosenmontag, Weiberfastnacht, or the women’s carnival night, begins. By tradition, the women are allowed to cut off the tie of any man they pass, plus they are free to kiss any man they wish. This day signals the beginning of the five days of Rosenmontag. Nearly 50 processions lead up to the Rose Monday parade.

Germany’s Rosenmontag is not an official holiday, but in areas of Germany that celebrate Karneval, workers usually get the day off. The festivities in Germany are also not as sexually charged as they are in places like New Orleans, Brazil, and Trinidad, and the weather is considerably cooler. All of this makes Karneval celebrations feel more like mild-mannered costume parties than what we’ve come to know them as today, but they are indeed colorful, festive, engaging, and a lot of fun.

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