If there's one thing everyone knows about Cologne, it's that the city knows how to throw a good Karneval party. Young and old flooded the streets this year, as every year, wearing crazy costumes and perpetually drinking their treasured Kölsch pale lager day and night – and into the next day and night, on and on.
With little sleep and paint probably still lingering somewhere in my hair, I reflect on some of the things I learned during my first time around Karneval.
1. If you don't wear a costume, you'll feel very left out
It's not just the parade marchers who go all out on costumes. Just about every person – young and old – is decked out from head-to-toe in elaborate designs. There was one man in a bar dressed as a shower, complete with a plastic curtain hanging from a circular metal ring above him, attached to a shower head.
Even if you neglect to bring along colourful duds, there are still quite a few stores open during the festivities, offering props and face paint.
2. There's a particular culture of drinking beer
In Cologne, beer is served in short, cylindrical 200-milliliter glasses. But don't let the small size of the glasses fool you – people will drink a lot. The traditional method of drinking in Cologne is that when you finish one beer, the waiter brings you another one, marking each down on a coaster.
And if you buy any beers at any of the Kiosk convenience stores before hitting the street parties, don't even think about grabbing (or being able to find) anything other than a local Kölsch brew – people take their beer loyalty very seriously.
3. The songs will get stuck in your head, even if you can't understand them
One of the more beloved traditions of Karneval is to sway along with the crowd, belting out any of the numerous local drinking songs while at one of the many parades, or while just walking through the streets. These drinking song singing sessions can go on for quite a while as Cologne’s people seem to have an endless supply of them. But good luck trying to follow the lyrics, even if your German is superb – they’re all in the dialect of Kölsch.
Luckily, a German-American couple decided a few years ago to create a book with English translations of the Kölsch songs.
The most important thing to know how to sing – or shout at the top of your lungs – is Kölle Alaaf, meaning Cologne above all others.
6. Rain, sleet or snow – this city will party
Despite stormy weather cancelling other carnivals in the Rhineland area on Monday's big Rosenmontag event, Cologne still battled the rain for the sake of celebrating.
As one native Jeck told me, one simply has to adapt their costume for the weather. Many wore rain ponchos atop their clown suits. And capes can be a great way to liven up cold weather gear.