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GERMAN LANGUAGE

What you need to know about celebrating carnival in Germany

One of Germany’s biggest and most beloved festivals, carnival, has been celebrated for hundreds of years. It turns many German towns and cities into tourist hotspots around February and March.

What you need to know about celebrating carnival in Germany
The winter 2021/2022 carnival season kicked off in Cologne on November 11th. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Rolf Vennenbernd

What exactly is carnival and how do the Germans celebrate it?

First and foremost, there are several terms for the German carnival, depending on the region. 

Those in the Rhineland use the term Karneval, while people in neighbouring Bavaria or Saxony tend to call it Fasching and people from Hesse or Saarland call it Fastnacht. Although none of the carnival dates are official public holidays, they are a big part of German culture.

Germany’s carnival season generally begins at the 11th minute of the 11th hour on the 11th day of the 11th month and lasts right through to Ash Wednesday the following year.

READ ALSO: ‘Can’t wait any longer’: Germans celebrate at carnival events

Here’s a quick run-down of the key carnival events coming up:

Weiberfastnacht (women’s carnival night) falls on the 24th of February this year and marks the beginning of carnival celebrations. 

As the name suggests, this day is traditionally about reversing gender roles, with women taking power for a day. 

Some traditions on this day include Dreigestirn, where three people take on the roles of Jungfrau (maiden, typically played by a man), Prinz (prince) and Bauer (peasant), dressing up accordingly, and Krawatten abschneiden (literally tie cutting), where women cut off the men’s ties in a symbolic castration. 

A reveller celebrating Fasching in Würzburg, Bavaria on November 11th.

A reveller celebrating Fasching in Würzburg, Bavaria on November 11th. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Nicolas Armer

While there’s usually no official parade on this day, people still dress up and celebrate on the streets.

Rosenmontag, the Monday after Weiberfastnacht, this year on the 28th of February, is the day of the Umzüge (parades). These huge parades are what you most likely associate with the German carnival, where people dress up in elaborate costumes, on board their Prunkwagen (floats). 

The parades feature crowds singing carnival songs, dancing, throwing Kamelle (caramel flavoured sweets) and satirical, political messaging displayed on huge papier-mâché Schwellköpp – something Mainz’s carnival is especially known for.

An example of the Mainz 'Schwellkopp' in January 2020.

An example of the Mainz ‘Schwellkopp’ in January 2020. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Andreas Arnold

Karnevalsdienstag or Faschingsdienstag on the 1st of March this year is the second day of carnival. 

In the Rhineland, this is when the Nubbelverbrennung (nubbel burning) takes place, where a traditional, life-sized straw doll, known as a Nubbel, is set in flames. The Nubbel stands in as a scapegoat for all the misdemeanours of the carnival season – burning him ensures a prosperous year ahead.

People celebrate a carnival event in Cologne on February 4th.

People celebrate a carnival event in Cologne on February 4th. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Henning Kaiser

Aschermittwoch falls on the 2nd of March this year and marks the end of carnival with a big Festessen (feast) – well deserved after long nights of singing, shouting and dancing. On this day, like Ash Wednesday in other countries, a period of fasting begins until Easter.

Are celebrations going forward this year? 

Unfortunately, due to the pandemic, many carnival celebrations have been put on hold once more, or at least scaled down massively.

Düsseldorf carnival organisers have postponed their procession until the 29th of May, while most other regions have cancelled theirs completely.

The iconic Kölner Karneval, which goes back to the Middle Ages, will not be taking place this year. Instead, there will be a small Rosenmontagsfest on the 24th February, most likely with limited entry in the RheinEnergieStadion and 2G rules in the party hotspots near Alter Markt and Südstadt. There will be a small Nubbelverbrennung in Petersberger Hof and the CocktailContor. 

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

Cologne’s carnival museum is, however, open year-round. This is where you can learn more about the origins of the festival and be fully prepared for the festivities when they can go ahead full force after the pandemic. 

Other regions (normally) celebrating carnival include Mainz, Munich, Aachen, Stuttgart, Frankfurt, Bremen, Nuremberg, and Cottbus.

Some other carnival terms to know:

“Alaaf!” = traditional carnival greeting of Cologne

das Bützchen = a small kiss given to strangers

der Fastnachtskrapfe = jelly-filled carnival donuts

“Helau!” = traditional carnival greeting of Düsseldorf

der Jeck, der Narr = the jester / the fool (a popular costume idea)

die Kamelle = sweets thrown down from floats on Rosenmontag, traditionally caramel flavoured

der Prunkwagen = the float

der Umzug = the parade

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GERMAN LANGUAGE

10 words to help you enjoy the German summer

Summer has arrived in Germany, so we’ve put together a list of ten words to help you navigate the hottest season.

10 words to help you enjoy the German summer

1. (die) Sommersprossen

A close-up of a woman with prominent freckles.

A close-up of a woman with prominent freckles. Photo: pa/obs/myBody / Shutterstock | Irina Bg

The German word for ‘freckles’, translates literally as “summer sprouts”, as these little spots start to appear on many people’s faces as soon as the sun begins to shine in spring and summer.

2. eincremen

A woman applies sun lotion on a summer's day.

A woman applies sun lotion on a summer’s day. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/dpa-tmn | Christin Klose

To help protect against sunburn, it’s important to use a lot of sunscreen during warm summer days in Germany. Thanks to the magic of German separable verbs, there is a specific word for applying creme to the skin – eincremen – which can also be used to talk about applying sun lotion.

Examples:

Den gesamten Körper vor dem Aufenthalt in der Sonne eincremen

Apply creme to the entire body before sun exposure.

Einmal eincremen reicht nicht, um die Haut einen ganzen Tag lang vor Sonne zu schützen.

It’s not enough to apply sun cream just once to protect the skin from the sun for a whole day.

3. (die) Hundstage

A dog lies exhausted on the stones of a terrace in summer temperatures.

A dog lies exhausted on the stones of a terrace in summer temperatures. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Martin Gerten

‘Dog days’ are colloquially referred to in Europe as the hottest period in summer from July 23rd to August 23rd.

The term ‘dog days’ dates back to the 14th century and was originally associated with the first appearance of the star Sirius of the “Great Dog” constellation. However, due to the changing position of the Earth’s axis, the time period has shifted by about four weeks.

Nevertheless, you’ll still hear people all over Germany referring to the “Hundstage.”

4. eisgekühlt

A glass of mineral water with ice and lemon.

A glass of mineral water with ice and lemon. Photo: picture alliance / dpa | Daniel Karmann

There’s nothing better than cooling off with a refreshing, ice-cold drink on a hot summer day, so make sure to use this word at the beach bar to specify that you want your drinks at a near-zero temperature!

Examples:

Das Kokoswasser schmeckt am besten eisgekühlt.

The coconut water tastes best ice-cold.

5. (die) Waldbrandstufe

A sign on a forest path indicates forest fire level five.

A sign on a forest path indicates forest fire level five. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/dpa-centralpicture | Soeren Stache

The Waldbrandstufe – meaning forest fire level – is a warning system that has been used in all German states since 2014 to indicate the level of forest fire risk, based on the local heat and dryness levels.

Level 1 stands for very low fire risk in forests and level 5 for very high risk. When the Stufe (level) is above 3 or 4, certain measures – such as banning barbecues – will come into force locally.

You will often see the Waldbrandstufe sign in woodland areas, near beaches, or on weather reports over the summer.

Example:

Lagerfeuer werden aufgrund der hohen Waldbrandstufe nicht geduldet.
 
Due to the danger of forest fires campfires will not be tolerated.

6. (der) Strandkorb

Beach chairs stand in sunny weather on the beach in the Baltic resort of Binz on the island of Rügen.

Beach chairs on the beach in the Baltic resort of Binz on the island of Rügen. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Stefan Sauer

The “Strandkorb”, literally meaning beach basket, is a special type of beach chair that you will find on almost every German beach. The traditional beach chair was invented in 1882 by German basket maker Wilhelm Bartelmann in Rostock.

Example:

Hier kannst du in der Ostsee baden oder dich in einem Strandkorb entspannen.

Here you can swim in the Baltic Sea or relax in a beach chair.

7. (die) Radtour

A man and a woman cycle through Lüneburg Heath.

A man and a woman cycle through Lüneburg Heath. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/HeideRegion Uelzen e.V. | Jürgen Clauß, HeideRegion Uelz

Germans love biking, so it’s no surprise that a specific word exists for the summer phenomenon of going on a Radtour – bike tour.

READ ALSO: 10 things to consider for a bike trip in Germany

Example: 

Der gesamte Rundweg ist eine leichte Radtour.
 
The entire circular route is an easy bike ride.

8. Sonne tanken

A man on an air mattress sunbathing on a lake while a model boat passes him by.

A man on an air mattress sunbathing on a lake while a model boat passes him by. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Thomas Warnack

If you love summer, then you probably like to lie in the sun and soak up the rays. In German, you would call this “Sonne tanken” – literally to fuel up on sun.

Example:

Ich will einfach nur Sonne tanken!

I just want to soak up the sun!

9. (die) Sommergewitter

Lightning striking in the Hanover region in June 2021.

Lightning striking in the Hanover region in June 2021. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Julian Stratenschulte

Another very specific word, this term is used to describe the phenomenon of summer thunderstorms.

Example:

Die ersten Sommergewitter rollen quer durch Deutschland.

The first summer thunderstorms are rolling across Germany.

10. (die) Eisdiele

A scoop of strawberry ice cream is placed on top of another scoop in a waffle cone at the "Eiskultur" ice cream parlor in Schöneweide.

A scoop of strawberry ice cream is placed on top of another scoop in a waffle cone at the “Eiskultur” ice cream parlor in Schöneweide. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Jens Kalaene

Finally, no summer would be complete without a generous helping of ice cream. In German, the most common name for an ice-creme parlour is “Eisdiele”. 

The word seems to have joined the German language when the very first ice-creme parlour was opened in Hamburg in 1799.

READ ALSO: Spaghetti ice cream to Wobbly Peter: Why we love Germany’s sweet summer snacks

Example:

Es gibt eine sehr gute Eisdiele an der Promenade.

There is a really good ice-creme parlour on the promenade.

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