Kölle Aalaaf! Tips and Tricks to Surviving Karneval in Cologne, Germany

I was (read: am) a beginner to Karneval. I had heard the tales. I had seen the pictures of the aftermath of previous years. I traveled to Cologne with the experience of many a Madison Halloween Freakfest and one particularly long night of spring break fun on Bourbon Street under my belt, expecting the time from Saturday to Faschingsdienstag (Fat Tuesday) to be an equally whirling weekend, so to speak. What I encountered was both physically detrimental and spiritually heartwarming, in that order. If you ever find yourself in Köln around Fasching, here are a few bits of advice that may come in useful so you can enjoy the ups of Energie tanken and avoid the pitfalls of a Karneval weekend.

1) Buy yourself a drink.

Grab a Kölsch!

This may seem very obvious at first. Colonians and the grand influx of German tourists along with people from around the world come raring to go and ready to get smashed. Literally speaking, the party lasts from 11:11 a.m. on Thursday until the evening on Fat Tuesday (before Ash Wednesday and the fasting time of Lent begins). Many people do actually accomplish the liver-degrading feat of having alcohol in their bloodstream for the entire time. I restricted my unhealthy indulgence to Saturday night, when my friends and I went out, full-steam ahead, intent on finding craziness.

The bar scene is as colorful as the costume-clad patrons who jam into all available corners, under and on top of tables, soaking up bottles of Cologne’s signature beer, Kölsch. (Whatever you do, for the love of Podolski don’t order an Alt, the much-hated competing beer of Düsseldorf). The music is typically a mix of classic Karneval songs, old, terrible German hits, and normal dance music with a simple beat that any swashbuckled fool can stomp around to. The downside? In Köln you can smoke in all bars and clubs, so you leave feeling as if you’d inhaled at least a half pack of cigarettes.

2) Wear warm socks!

Well, at least when you’re standing in one of the (daily?) parades that last for at least three hours each; February and March are still feet-chilling months in Germany! In Köln, the children are just as greedy as anywhere else and will disregard the danger of scampering in front of giant horses in hopes of grabbing the thousands of sweet Kamelle which rain down from the passing floats and parade participants. This leads me to another piece of advice: bring empty bags. Yes, you might be a few years older than the average kid lunging for chocolates, but hey, it’s free candy! Plus, remember that there’s no real Halloween in Germany, so you have to take what you can get…

3) Kiss a bunch of men, get a bunch of roses.

Karneval parades: costumes, candy, flowers, and balloons!

Kiss them on the cheek, that is. Wouldn’t want to get up close and personal with that many people in one day, would we? Regardless, it’s a wonderful tradition that made me feel rather medieval when my first “suitor” handed me a rose in exchange for two kisses on the cheek. How does it work? You spot a rather dapper fellow as he’s parading past, call his attention to you by shouting Röschen! Röööööschen! (little roses!) and waving elegantly at him, and if he likes what he sees you get flowers in exchange for kisses. The fun part is that when you do it to elderly gentlemen they give you strange looks, wondering what a saucy young tart is cat-calling them for.

4) On the train ride home, don’t be afraid to use your elbows.

Herds of drunken and/or hungover clowns, pirates, Marios, Luigis, angels and devils crowd onto the regional trains leaving Cologne. You will be serenaded. You will make new friends. You will inhale the pungent stench of unwashed costumes. (One more bit of advice: bring spray deodorant to attack others with). The trains are like little compartments of portable Karneval fun, as the party mood continues until you reach your final destination. To keep the energy up, sing choruses of Viva Colonia even after you’ve descended back into regular non-Colonian German society. We pepped up the bus ride in Gießen by battling a group of guys who clearly had celebrated Fasching in Mainz and were belting out verses of different traditional songs.

5) Take a shower.

Karneval: the aftermath

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Really creative advice, I know. Honestly, it will be more interesting than your average shower as you’ll find that somehow you are simultaneously molting feather boas, shedding glitter and other bits of peoples’ costumes. You might feel a little more like Ke$ha than you usually do, but it’s all in good fun. Do your best to wash all the makeup off, though it’ll stubbornly try to stick to your as a last-ditch souvenir of your crazygood time.

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