Carnival: How Germany is celebrating Rosenmontag in lockdown

Clowns, political floats and lots of shouting: Rosenmontag is usually a massive celebration in parts of Germany. Here's what's happening this year in the pandemic shutdown.

Carnival: How Germany is celebrating Rosenmontag in lockdown
Unna's Helmut Scherer is known for putting on the world's smallest carnival procession, which is pandemic friendly. Photo: DPA

It's fair to say that Rosenmontag is usually one of the biggest street parties in the parts of Germany that celebrate carnival, including Cologne and Düsseldorf.

But – unsurprisingly – this year things are very different. Due to the pandemic and ongoing lockdown restrictions, the big parades are cancelled.

Carnival events are understood to have fuelled the spread of Covid-19 at the beginning of the pandemic in Germany, leading to a rising number of cases in the state of North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW) as well as a number of deaths.

READ ALSO: 'You can't cancel carnival': How can Germany celebrate street festival in coronavirus times?

The last time Rosenmontag parades were axed in Düsseldorf and Mainz was in 2016 due to hurricane-force winds.

In Cologne, the last cancelled parade was in 1991: back then, carnival revellers decided to forego the procession because of the Gulf War.

So how are some of these places going to celebrate?

This year although the huge street parties are cancelled, the spirit of carnival is still alive – and many people might just spend the day in fancy dress in their home.

In Cologne there is a very small substitute: from 2pm broadcaster WDR will show the Rosenmontag procession in miniature form – as a production of the Hänneschen puppet theatre.

A 32-metre-long backdrop of Cologne's old town has been erected in the carriage construction hall of the Cologne Carnival Festival Committee.

READ ALSO: The calls you'll hear at Carnival – and what they mean

According to the festival committee, the small procession has everything that its big brother has. This includes floats with motifs, dance groups and, of course, spectators.

The floats by the Hänneschen procession show, among others, the pandemic health experts Karl Lauterbach, Christian Drosten and Hendrik Streeck who have all become high profile this year.

In true Karneval form, they also make fun of habits that emerged this year such as panic buying – Hamsterkauf in German.

A miniature Rosenmontag float showing a hamster with toilet paper rolls in Cologne. Photo: DPA

There is also a ray of hope for the Jecken in Düsseldorf. There, eight designs by famous float builder Jacques Tilly will be on display.

According to the Düsseldorf Carnival Committee, the sculptures will be placed in the city centre for about two hours. They will not be driven through the streets in a convoy, but individually on three different routes.

They're doing it this way because the carnival organisers want to prevent groups of spectators from gathering on streets and rules being violated.

READ ALSO: Düsseldorf Helau! How I embraced the Rhineland's carnival celebrations

'Bang the drum despite lockdown'

Otherwise Rosenmontag is for many people a normal working day in the carnival strongholds this year.

The Cologne University Hospital, however, is giving its employees Rosenmontag as a free “thank you day”. This is to honour the extraordinary commitment of the employees this year.

In the small city of Unna, meanwhile, the celebrations are going ahead as planned. That's because they are pandemic-friendly anyway.

Pensioner Helmut Scherer is known for putting on the world's smallest carnival procession. For more than six decades, he has been parading through the city centre on Rosenmontag by himself (or with a very small crew of one other).

To avoid crowds of spectators at the roadside, the 86-year-old has moved his solo spectacle to the city's hospital grounds this year:

“That way I can also bring a little joy to the patients there during this time,” Scherer told DPA. His motto this year is: “Bang the drum despite lockdown”.

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Pandemic in Germany unlikely to end this year, says top virologist

High profile German virologist Christian Drosten believes Germany will see a severe spike in Covid infections after summer, and that the pandemic will not become endemic this year.

Pandemic in Germany unlikely to end this year, says top virologist

Drosten previously said that Germany would probably be able to declare the end of the pandemic this year.

But in an interview with Spiegel, Drosten said he had reevaluated his opinion. 

“When the Alpha variant came, it was very surprising for me. When Delta appeared I was sceptical at first, then with Omicron we had to reorient ourselves again. And since January there have already been new Omicron subtypes.

“So I would actually like to correct myself: I no longer believe that by the end of the year we will have the impression that the pandemic is over.”

READ ALSO: End is in sight for pandemic in Germany, says virologist 

Drosten also said that Germany will not see a largely Covid-free summer, which has been the case in previous years, and a further increase in infections in autumn. 

“We are actually already seeing an exponential increase in case numbers again,” Drosten said.

“The BA.5 variant (of Omicron) is simply very transmissible, and people are losing their transmission protection from the last vaccination at the same time.”

In other countries, he said, when the number of cases become high, hospitalisation and death rates also rise again. “Unfortunately, that will also be the case here,” said Drosten, but added: “Overall, however, far fewer people will become seriously ill and die than in 2021.”

Drosten said he expected many more infections from September.

“I hope that the school holidays will dampen the increase in cases somewhat. But from September, I fear we will have very high case numbers,” the head of the virology department at Berlin’s Charité hospital told Spiegel.

READ ALSO: German Health Minister lays out autumn Covid plan

Virologist Christian Drosten at a Covid press conference in 2021.

Virologist Christian Drosten at a Covid press conference in 2021. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Kay Nietfeld

If the government does not take any action, he predicted there would be a lot of sick leave across all industries. “That will become a real problem,” he said.

Drosten said he did not expect overcrowded intensive care units in Germany.

But the new BA.5 sub-variant, which is becoming dominant in Germany, may affect people more strongly. 

“The wheel is turning more towards disease again,” said Drosten. It is not true that a virus automatically becomes more and more harmless in the course of evolution. “That makes me even more worried about the autumn,” he said.

Drosten recommends wearing masks indoors during the colder months, saying it is “the least painful” measure.

If, in addition, “up to 40 million people could be immunised or given a booster vaccination” before winter, for example by urgently calling for company vaccinations, that would “really make a difference”, Drosten said.

In the long term, he said it’s inevitable that people will become infected with coronavirus.

He said the population immunity due to vaccinations and infections will at some point be so strong that the virus will become less important. “Then we will be in an endemic state,” said Drosten. In the worst case, however, this could take “several more winters”.

However, Drosten warned against people trying to deliberately infect themselves with Covid, saying getting the infection in summer doesn’t mean people will be protected in winter. 

Drosten himself said he has not yet contracted Covid-19.

“So far, I guess I’ve just been lucky,” he said. “I rarely put myself in risky situations, but I’m not overly cautious either.”

‘Pandemic depends on behaviour’

According to the Robert Koch Institute (RKI)’s latest weekly report, more outbreaks are occurring in care homes, and the number of patients in intensive care units is slightly rising as infections go up. 

The institute said there had been a 23 percent increase in the 7-day incidence compared to the previous week. On Friday the 7-day incidence stood at 618.2 infections per 100,000 people. There were 108,190 infections within the latest 24 hour period and 90 deaths. 

“The further course of the pandemic depends not only on the occurrence of new virus variants and the uptake of vaccinations on offer, it also depends to a large extent on the behaviour of the population,” said the RKI.

According to the DIVI intensive care register, the number of Covid-19 patients in ICUs had increased to 810 on Thursday this week, from about 600 at the beginning of the month.

However, that number is still low compared to previous Covid peaks when thousands of people were in intensive care in Germany.