posted on: 23 June, 2021
Did you know that Rhineland in Germany has 5 seasons? The usual 4 plus the Crazy Season, Carnival. Find out everything you need to know and how to be part of it next time around!
Every year around mid-February the German Rhineland region turns the volume up, opens the beer taps and jumps into fancy dress. It’s Carnival time, the crazy season. For 5 days the area between Cologne to Dusseldorf becomes the Copa Cabana of Germany when thousands of revellers flock the streets to celebrate their beloved 05th season. It’s a wild and ferocious party and nothing like Notting Hill or the Venice carnival.
When, what, why and how?
Essentially carnival is a Christian custom celebrating the last days before lent, 40 days prior to Easter. It dates to the 11th century when these days were one giant feat full of indulgence, food, and alcohol. Not dissimilar to today actually and celebrated all over the world, most famous in Rio de Janeiro.
In Germany it is a regional celebration. Many cities and regions mainly in the south and west of Germany celebrate carnival, but Cologne and Dusseldorf form the epicentre, the eye of the storm!
Starting on Thursday, Ladies Day, it hits the peak on Shrove Monday, officially a bank holiday with all shops and schools closed. Huge parades with wagons, bands and music groups make their way through the streets lined with thousands of party hungry spectators.
The atmosphere catches right on and to join is easy. Just dress up and jump into the action. Carnival is celebrated on the streets during the day! Yes, during the day, as it all starts at 11.11am on Thursday! Tradition is that the mayors hand over the city keys to the women and who are in charge until Ash Wednesday. Hence the first day is called Ladies Day. But no worries men are more than welcome!
So, dress up warm and head to the old towns in Dusseldorf and Cologne. Just follow indians, astronauts, lions, monks, mermaids, clowns, and all sorts of treasures out of the fancy dress cabinet.
Cologne’s squares such as the Heumarkt or Rudolfsplatz are packed to the rafters with people dancing, singing, and giving out Butzchen, kisses on the cheeks, to everyone and everything basically.
Dusseldorf’s old town and its Rhine promenade equally erupts with cries of joy, thumping tunes and huge crowds singing their time away.
You will find yourself hugging random strangers and dance arm in arm for hours to come. Picture yourself amongst these crowds singing your heart out.
From late afternoon until the early hours the bars, clubs, and pubs host the party. So, quite a bit of stamina is needed!
You think you have seen it all come Monday? Think twice and wait till you see this. On Shrove Monday Carnival hits the peak, and the revellers give it all they got to give. The atmosphere is ecstatic and euphoric. Swaying crowds cheer on the music and dance groups forming a gigantic parade moving through the cities at snail pace.
Little sweets called Kamelle are thrown down from the wagons into the crowds. And bring a small shot glass. People will randomly hug you, give you a kiss and a free shot of moonshine to warm you up. You need it as it’s February after all and the carnival mad local doesn’t care whether it is -12 or +5 degree. It goes on all day!
Like Lady’s Day people head to the bars in the late afternoon where the frenzy continues till early dawn. Stamina is needed. And a fancy dress. Of course! You wouldn’t want to stand out not wearing one. Make sure you plan yours wisely. Layers are they key as you need to stay warm outdoors and be able to layer down inside the packed and boiling hot bars!
How to Get There?
Easy. Both cities have international airports with many connections from London or Manchester. Flight prices start from £39.pp per way. Alternatively jump on the Eurostar from London to Brussels and change to Cologne. It only takes around 4hours.
Where to Stay?
Central is key here as taxis are scarce and public transport annoying. But don’t worry we can arrange the ideal accommodation for us. Both cities offer a great variety of hotels catering for all budgets. Prices for a decent hotel in either city are around £39 per person per night.
Cologne’s beer of choice is the light Koelsch, Dusseldorf’s the darker Alt. And as there’s a strong rivalry between the 2 cities don’t ask for a Koelsch in Dusseldorf and vice versa. The tongue and cheek locals will dress you down properly if you do so, avoid.
Similar goes for the two different battle cries which replace “Hello” and “Goodbye” during these frenetic days. In Cologne it is “Alaaf” and in Dusseldorf “Helau”. Again, try to remember this.
What else to Do?
Plenty. The Ultimate Guide to Carnival in Cologne and Dusseldorf wouldn’t be complete without it. On the usually quieter Friday explore the city centres full of cultural highlights such as the gothic cathedral in Cologne or famous KO shopping mile in Dusseldorf.
And if you like your football and always wanted to do a Bundesliga Breaks & Weekend Tours 2021 | ATO Tours (ato-tours.com) combine the two and catch a game on Saturday or Sunday. Fortuna Dusseldorf and FC Koln play games during carnival and teams such as Bayer Leverkusen or Borussia Moenchengladbach are within spitting distance too. And even the Ruhr giants Borussia Dortmund are only one hour away. If that’s your thing, talk to us.
Sunday is then all about relaxation and preparing yourself for the big one, Shrove Monday. Cologne was founded by the Romans, and they left their bath culture in the city. What better way to spend the Sunday afternoon after a long walk along the Rhine promenade then in one of great thermal spas in city, Oases of calm in the city: 4 spas in Cologne | #visitkoeln blog (koelntourismus.de). Ultimate relaxation in beautiful surroundings set you up for the Big One!
Cologne or Dusseldorf?
This is tough and much discussed topic. We recommend mixing the two as they are both pretty cities you shouldn’t miss.
We slightly favour the Thursday in Cologne and the Monday in Dusseldorf to be honest. But it is hard to pinpoint exactly why and there isn’t much between them. Maybe Cologne is that little wilder. And one can only imagine how wild it will be in next year having to cancel this year’s season due to Covid.
We hope we managed to excite and bring little of this crazy carnival vibe over to you with this Ultimate Guide to Carnival in Cologne and Dusseldorf.
It is really something you must experience yourself to fully understand. And we hope you do as it is so unknown to these shores and something Authentic, Tailor-Made and Original.
For full itinerary planning contact us here
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See you in Cologne & Dusseldorf!
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