‘Can’t wait any longer’: Revellers celebrate at German carnival

Germany may be registering record coronavirus infections again but in Cologne, revellers shrugged off any virus fears to return in force on Thursday for their first carnival fair since the pandemic.

Revellers at Cologne carnival celebrations on Thursday.
Revellers at Cologne carnival celebrations on Thursday. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Rolf Vennenbernd

“We are completely protected” by the the rules keeping unvaccinated people away from the event, said Marie-Louise, who had travelled in from the Netherlands for the street party.

The Cologne Carnival, which begins at the 11th minute of the 11th hour on the 11th day of the 11th month, kicks off a months-long series of merrymaking events running through to Ash Wednesday the following year.

The street festivities in the western city involving people dressed up in elaborate costumes, partying to big band music and enjoying comedy shows, were cancelled in 2020 over the pandemic, like elsewhere across Germany.

Early in the health crisis last year, a carnival party had become a superspreader event, leading to Germany’s first major cluster of infections.

More than a year on, the Covid crisis still casts a shadow over festivities.

Germany registered a record number of new infections in 24 hours, official data showed, and regions are laying on new restrictions, especially targetting
the unvaccinated.

Bavarian state premier Markus Söder, himself an afficionado of dressing up at carnivals, said he found it “a little difficult to imagine carnival” going ahead.

Instead, he warned that restrictions on such events may be needed to halt surging infections.

The Cologne event too had to improvise as the designated “prince” who is meant to lead the festivities tested positive on the eve of the carnival and had to be replaced at the 11th hour.

But the crowd was undeterred.

‘We are back’

Gathered without masks in a square in the city’s old town, they turned up in their thousands to the tune of the song “Mir sin widder do” – “we are back”.

Uwe Schörnig, who is the treasurer of an association of carnival participants, said: “It feels great to party again.

“I’m not going to feel bad about having fun,” Schoernig, dressed in a sailor’s uniform, told AFP. “If the politicians think restrictions are necessary, we’ll keep to the rules. But as long as that’s not the case, we will carry on.”

People enjoying the carnival celebrations in Cologne.
People enjoying the carnival celebrations in Cologne. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Rolf Vennenbernd

Hanno Pütz, who was the “prince” leading festivities at Bergisch Gladbach city in 2019, agreed.

“We’ve been waiting for so long,” he said, pointing to cancelled carnivals through 2020. “We can’t wait any longer to parade through the streets in our costumes.”

“We have so little normalcy in our lives these days. Here at least we can bring back a bit of joy,” said Pütz.

Martina, 22, who had travelled from Bielefeld with her friend Alina for the party, said: “We feel free again.”

She told AFP: “You just need to get vaccinated and then there’s no problem.”

But not all are throwing caution to the wind.

Reveller Stephanie Walbroehl said she plans to “test herself through the weekend” before returning to work.

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Why an ancient German archaeological treasure has voyaged into space

Just over 30 years after it was discovered, and around 3,600 years after its creation by Bronze Age Germans, a replica of Germany's greatest archaeological find is heading into orbit. 

The Nebra Sky Disk and the ISS.
The Nebra Sky Disk and the ISS. Photo: Getty Images / Wikipedia

Aboard the SpaceX Crew-3 rocket, European Space Agency astronaut Matthias Maurer took a replica of the famous ‘Nebra Sky Disk‘ with him as he ventured to the International Space Station.

Blasting off on November 11th from Cape Canaveral, Maurer’s ‘Cosmic Kiss’ mission is devoted to undertaking and carrying out a number of experiments for European and international research organisations.

However, it’s natural to ask – why take a representation of a Bronze Age artefact into space?

An age-old inspiration

In preparing for the ‘Cosmic Kiss’ mission, the German astronaut took inspiration from the Nebra Sky Disk. Found in 1999 by illegal metal detectorists near the town of Nebra in Sachsen-Anhalt, it is the oldest-known depiction of the night sky.

After a sting operation, Prof. Dr Harald Meller of the State Office for Monument Preservation and Archaeology in Saxony-Anhalt was able to recover it from black market dealers and study it.

It is thought that the Nebra Sky Disk, or ‘Himmelsscheibe’ was a sort of calendar, helping Bronze Age tribes-people of the Utenice culture to regulate the planting of crops. Without knowing when to add an extra month to their calendar, these peoples risked their crops dying in the cold.

A very early example of knowledge being recorded in a systematic manner for posterity, it is a clear precursor to the scientific observation and experimentation carried out by modern people.

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A pop culture phenomenon 

Despite very little being known about exactly when and by whom the Nebra Sky Disk was created, it has become part of Germany’s cultural heritage. Listed as a UNESCO ‘Memory of the World’ it is normally on permanent display at the Museum for Prehistory in Halle, Sachen-Anhalt. In January it will travel to the British Museum for a massive exhibition focusing on the Bronze Age world.

Not only that, but it is often referenced on television and in online media. Popular television host, Jan Bohmermann memorably likened the artefact to a ‘smiley with chickenpox‘, while satirical website Der Postillon gently mocked the mystery surrounding it, suggesting that it was an early pizza recipe.

It is also the subject of two best-selling books, ‘The Nebra Sky Disk‘ and ‘Reach to the Stars‘ by science writer Kai Michel, together with Prof. Dr Meller. 

Astronaut Maurer incorporated the Nebra Sky Disk into his mission. During his mission, he will make contact with viewers on earth and discuss the significance of the artefact to mankind.

Both the Museum for Prehistory in Halle, and the specialized ‘Arche Nebra‘ on the site of the disk’s discovery have greeted news of the mission with celebration, and are publicising it heavily on their social media channels.