In mid and northern Germany, the festivities are known as Karneval. In the south, it’s more commonly known as Fasching. Carnival celebrations are also called Fastnacht in various cities as well.
Festivities ringing in the last weekend of Carnival will begin Thursday, February 20th, and last through Tuesday, February 25th. The big Rosenmontag parades are on Monday, February 24th.
Technically, Carnival season, also known as the Fifth Season, begins in November and lasts until Ash Wednesday.
By many, Cologne is considered the capital of Karneval here in Germany. Many other cities and small towns follow a similar calendar of events during the last weekend — Weiberfastnacht, Rosenmontag, Shrove Tuesday, etc — but have their own takes or twists on the annual celebration.
Here is a round-up of where to spot the craziest costumes, partake in parades, hear music, dance for hours, and, well, you get the gist.
Even the city of Cologne says that the “real crazy days” don’t begin until Thursday, February 20th, also known as Weiberfastnacht. The street carnival at Alter Markt will open shortly after 11 o’clock — 11:11 am, to be exact — and various parties, plays, and masked balls will follow into Thursday evening, Friday, and Saturday.
One of the many creative costumes at Cologne's Carnival. Photo: DPA.
While there is a big a parade on Sunday, the big, official parade organized by the Cologne Carnival Festival Committee is on Monday, also known as Rosenmontag. The parade is about three hours, 6,5 km in length, and, in recent years, included over 10,000 participants. There are also over 70 floats from which “Strüßjer,” bunches of flowers, and “Kamelle,” or sweets, will be thrown to onlookers. The city recommends arriving at the parade route early for a good spot because “latecomers pushing to the front are unpopular.”
Tuesday is expected to be a bit quieter, but the big event is when Nubbel is burned. Nubbel is a straw figure symbolizing all of the sins that may have been committed in the preceding days and earlier in the Carnival season.
Cologne also has a Carnival museum that is opened on select days year round.
Cologne’s “30 minute by train” neighbor in North Rhine Westphalia, Düsseldorf also hosts big, colorful Carnival celebrations.
Revelers in Düsseldorf at last year's Rosenmontag parade. Photo: DPA.
Düsseldorf is famous for its Bivouacs, many small, often tented festivities that allow Carnival committee members to introduce themselves to locals and visitors. These events start early in the Carnival season but are still expected to continue to this last weekend, per the Dusseldorf Carnival committee website.
Famous for its parades and parties, Mainz has some parade participants that literally stand out from the rest of the crowd. For decades, Schwellköpp, or oversized, caricatured papier-mâché heads, have been a part of the Rosenmontag parade.
Mainz celebrations also have a reputation for diving into politics. In recent years, floats and costumes have caricatured international politicians, including not surprisingly U.S. President Donald Trump.
One of the political floats at a Rosenmontag parade in Mainz caricatured American President Donald Trump. Photo: DPA.
Like its neighbors in the Rhine regions, Fulda in Hesse also hosts many events. The Rosenmontag, or RoMo, parade is expected to attract 4,000 Carnival fans and is the larges in the state of Hesse.
Children perform a special dance in front of the town hall as part of the celebrations in Cottbus. Photo: DPA.
Carnival is more popular in Germany’s western and southern regions, but Cottbus in Brandenburg, showcases one of the east’s biggest parades. This year, Cottbus is expecting close to 100,000 onlookers for its colourful Rosenmontag parade.
During Carnival time, Seligenstadt is known as Schlumberland. The fools or Carnival revelers are called “Schlumber” here, hence the town nickname.
Though a small town compared to Cologne, the Hessian town expects 40,000 visitors for its Rosenmontag parade and revels, like various balls throughout the weekend.
This article was updated on 18 February 2020.