10 words you need to know at Cologne’s Carnival

If you’re celebrating Karneval in Cologne this year, don’t get caught out. Read The Local’s guide to the local slang that’ll make you sound like a seasoned veteran.

10 words you need to know at Cologne's Carnival
A woman in traditional festival costume. Photo: DPA

Alaaf is Cologne’s Narrenruf – what revellers shout to each other on the street. It can be done in one of two ways. Either you shout Köln and the other person shouts Alaaf back, or you shout Alaaf and your interlocutor will mirror your call.

Photo: DPA

Never mix this up with Helau, which is called in rival Düsseldorf – as this song shows, you might just miss out on the night of your life.

Karneval (or Fasching as it’s know in the south) is celebrated in most of Germany except the north and each city has its own Narrenruf, with Stuttgart’s Komma Gschwomma being one of the most wacky.

Rosenmontag is the high point of the Karneval. It includes hundreds of floats passing through the centre of town and will be attended by upwards of a million people. Floats come in all shapes and sizes and often take the form of satirical depictions of current political hot potatoes.

Photo: DPA

Büttenrede – a speech held during Karneval. They are supposed to be witty and often rhymne and are given from a pulpit which looks like a barrel, the local word for which is Bütt. These speeches go all the way back to the Middle Ages, when it was the only time when the simple man was allowed to criticize his overlords.

Bützchen. Karneval is a festival of excess with lots of booze and love to go around. Expect to at least be kissed on the cheeks by total strangers. This form of greeting is known as bützchen, it can be given on the cheek or the mouth. Even public officials – from police to major – have to put up with being given a Butzje. To reject them is seen as rude.

Photo: DPA

Immi is the Cologne abbreviation for immigrant and refers to anyone travelling to the metropolis from outside – so whether you’re from Möchengladbach or Madrid, you still qualify as an immi in the eyes of someone from Cologne.

Jecken are all the people that go to the pub and onto the streets to celebrate Karneval. The word means jester (in other cities the word Narr is used) and shows the history of the festival. It dates back to the medieval times, and even in those days people liked to dress up and play the fool.

Photo: DPA

Kamelle are the sweets that are thrown down from floats on Rosenmontag. The call of Kamelle will go up and you will be showered with goodies, from chocolates to gummy bears.

Photo: DPA

Geisterzug. Carnival has been cancelled many times across the years, most recently in 1991 because of the Gulf War. But someone Cologners went ahead with it anyway under the motto “Kamelle statt Krieg” (sweets instead of war) – from that year on the Geisterzug (ghost parade) has taken place at night – this is a must see.

Photo: DPA

Krätzchen is a type of joke beloved in the Rhineland. Rather than Berliners with their stone dry humour, Rhinenlanders like to tell short jokes with a punch line. This is often done on stage at bars throughout cities during Karneval. To other Germans they induce a groan – but since they’re told in thick Rhine dialect you’re not likely to understand them anyway.

Stippeföttche – if you see two men rubbing their bums together don’t be surprised, you’re just witness to the Stippeföttche, a special Cologne dance. In the unusual caper two men stand back to back with one another and rub their backs and bottoms up against one another.

SEE ALSO: Karneval: The party that makes Oktoberfest look civilized

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Ancient Jewish settlement to be brought back to life in Cologne

No city north of the Alps has been home to Jews for as long as the Roman settlement of Cologne. A recently discovered Jewish quarter is now being brought back to life.

Ancient Jewish settlement to be brought back to life in Cologne
The site of the construction in Cologne. Photo: DPA

If you are a tourist walking through the centre of Cologne, sooner rather than later, you'll come across a construction site located in the very best position, in the middle of the town hall square.

At the beginning of this millennium, the people of Cologne dug into the earth directly in front of their historic city hall and found a treasure from another millennium: the Jewish quarter.

Complete with a dance hall, a hospital, a bakery and a synagogue, the quarter contains the ruins of a settlement from the Middle Ages. It is a city within a city, a miniature world of houses huddled together. 

Of course, all that is left is ruins – one needs a bit of imagination to picture how the whole thing once looked. But experts from Germany and abroad agree: there's nothing like it anywhere else in the world.

Ancient tradition

No other German city has been associated with Jewish history for so long as Cologne. 

The first documented Jewish community dates back to the year 321, making it the oldest north of the Alps. 

But in 1349, the neighbourhood was destroyed and its inhabitants were murdered or expelled. Local Christians blamed Jews for the outbreak of the plague.

Currently, a museum is being built over the site on the town hall square. It will be a parallel world underground: visitors will be able to relive life in the Jewish quarter in the era of knights and minstrels on a 600-meter-long trail. The trail also visits the governor's palace from Roman times, which was rediscovered in the 1950s. 

The museum is called MiQua after the name for the Jewish ritual bath, Mikveh.

Exhibits will include artifacts found during the excavations; among them is a crescent-shaped, gem-set gold earring from the 11th century. 

The researchers also discovered a tablet dating back to the Middle Ages with the inscription “yt in ys neyt anders.” This could be translated as “Et is wie et is” (It is as it is) – a classic Cologne saying. 

The museum is scheduled to open in 2024, but through the panorama windows on the third floor of the Wallraf-Richartz-Museum, also located on Rathausplatz, one can already follow the progress of construction work.

This year Jewish life will be celebrated across the country – the anniversary year '1,700 years of Jewish life in Germany' will be celebrated nationwide. 

Hamburg is organising a themed week entitled 'More than Little Jerusalem'; in Nuremberg the photo exhibition 'Germany's Emigrants' will be opened; and in Herxheim in Rhineland-Palatinate the play Judas by Lot Vekemans will be staged.

READ MORE: 9 hilarious gifts Judaism gave the German language