Carnival in Cologne can feel like a big, colourful mess of costumes and clowns that all blurs together before you even know what you’re supposed to be doing (especially due to all that Kölsch beer consumption).
So it’s probably best to plan your days before you start boozing to be sure you don’t miss the biggest events.
The Carnival tradition can be found around the world, from Brazil to Venice, and the biggest in Germany is certainly Cologne. Local revellers – called Jecken – use the celebrations to indulge in parties leading up to the Christian Lent season of fasting and abstinence beginning on Ash Wednesday.
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The main events revolve around watching parades in which various city groups march about in costumes with lively floats, but the participants are far from the only ones in costume. In fact, you’ll find yourself feeling quite out of place – no matter what time of day – if you’re without some kind of ridiculous garb, so remember to bring along your face paint and clown shoes.
Women's Carnival Day (Weiberfastnacht): 23th February, 2017
This is the first big event, where women dress up in their whimsical best – even on their way to work. The thing not to miss starts at 10am when the women head to the Alter Markt (Old Market), and then at 11.11am when the Prince, Peasant and Virgin figures officially kick off the party.
It’s then tradition that at 1.30pm, performers reenact the unrequited love story of Jan and Griet – based on German Count Johann von Werth – at the Torburg at Chlodwigplatz.
After that, street parties will follow for the rest of the day and night – and basically won’t stop for several more days.
Carnival Friday: February 24th
The festivities from Thursday don’t really die down going into Friday, but the thing to make sure you recover and turn up for is the Sternmarsch, where different groups converge at the Alter Markt to show off their parade costumes from the last season.
Spectators can start filling the area at 4pm and the march begins at 6pm, but it’s best to arrive earlier to find a good spot in the crowd to see the colourful ensembles and belt out the various folk songs in the Kölsch dialect.
When in doubt of what to shout, just remember “Kölle Alaaf!” as that’s mostly what they’ll be saying.
SEE ALSO: Carnival chants and what they mean
After that, revellers will again hit the bars and the streets to drink and dance the night away.
Saturday Ghost Parade (Geisterzug): February 25th
Things take a slightly darker, Halloween-ish turn on Saturday with vampires and witches turning out for the ‘Ghost Parade’. This year’s Roman-themed parade, starting at 6pm, will begin at the corner of Maternusstraße and Alteburger Straße and end ultimately at the corner of Bonner Straße and Elsassstraße.
While at other parades later on you can expect to catch candy thrown by the marchers, this Ghost Parade offers up another tradition: Bützje, or a kiss on the cheek.
See the parade route here.
Sunday School and District Parade (Schull- und Veedelszöch): February 26th
On Sunday different school and city groups show off their brand new costumes for the first time and parade through the city centre, past the famous cathedral and the train station.
You’ll probably be in for a Bützje or two, but also Kamelle (candy) and Strüßjer (flowers).
Rose Monday (Rosenmontag) – the main event: February 27th
A parade float for 2017. Photo: DPA
The big floats will debut with their tradition of depicting political satire. Mocking Merkel is always a recurring theme, and US President Donald Trump is sure to be a popular target in 2017. Last year in the Düsseldorf Rosenmontag procession, a mock Trump debuted with the words “Make Fascism Great Again”.
This year in Cologne, there will be a float depicting a tiny child-like Trump as a new schoolkid, seemingly reaching under the Statue of Liberty's dress, and the only student who will sit by him is Vladimir Putin.
Violet Tuesday (Veilchendienstag): February 28th
Afterwards the event not to miss is the burning of the Nubbel – a lifesize straw doll that represents the transgressions the partiers have committed throughout the debaucherous season.
Bars around the city will be burning their own straw dolls at midnight, and around 10,000 people are expected to turn up at Zülpicher Straße, where many will have been enjoying the lively nightlife.
This marks the official end to Carnival, as church-goers prepare for Ash Wednesday services. A lot of Carnival groups still meet up after, though without costumes, to eat the traditional fish meal as Lent begins.