Karneval: no school, only partying. I came to Germany for the culture, and though Karneval is not widely celebrated throughout Germany, it’s been one of the best ‘’holidays’’ I’ve experienced during my exchange. For those who don’t know, Karneval is the European equivalent of Mardi Gras. It’s celebrated more in Northwest Germany, with Cologne holding the biggest celebration- 1.5 million people. Everyone gets decked in costumes and I mean everyone. You only look weird if you don’t have a costume.
I moved to Bonn the week before the biggest Karneval weekend. I met my new host family, dropped my bags at their house, and then immediately left with my host sister to find the parade. During these ‘’Karneval Züge’’ you line the streets while tons of groups go through with floats, costumes, and music while throwing candy. However, you can only earn the candy if you yell ‘Kamelle!’’ Thrown very fast into the festivities, I happily left with an entire tote full of candy and other goodies.
In North Rhine-Westphalia, the students are given Friday-Tuesday off the week of Rosenmontag (‘’Rose Monday’’). Thursday was our school celebration- shortened day, no work, and everyone in costumes. We played Karneval music, made waffles, and had a mini costume contest. My American tourist outfit secured First. From school, to work, to with friends, Karneval is celebrated everywhere. My host sister and I headed to my host parents’ Karneval work party. We danced for three hours and watched the traditional Karneval dancers along with a ‘’Männer Ballett.’’ Age truly has nothing on Germans- the oldest man in the ballet was 62 but ended the show in the splits!
I spent all of Saturday in Cologne taking in the festivities. I had friends from all over Germany come to Cologne to experience it. Neumarkt was our first stop. Packed shoulder to shoulder, we enjoyed the live music and watched some interesting performances. We then found a street performance surrounded by a huge crowd. A lady specifically pulled my friends and me into the middle and we danced and danced, eventually starting a huge conga line in the middle of the street. Our biggest stop of the night was on Zulpi, the street to be on for Karneval. This is where you can witness some... Interesting sights. My goal was to take as many pictures with strangers as possible which was easily conquered. I was even asked to take photos with someone when he learned I was American. We made new friends, ran into old ones, and danced the day away.
Sunday was a smaller day for festivities, so I headed to my friend’s smaller town for another parade. We weren’t originally going to go, so I stole my friend’s Viking costume and used a Nutella Biscuit bag we bought five minutes before to collect my goods. I was able to get so many flowers at this parade that I had a nice mixed bouquet in my room for the next week. My hands were overflowing with everything so I eventually took an empty Snickers box from a float to carry everything home.
Rosenmontag is the biggest day of Karneval. I was told this and knew it was going to be the biggest parade yet, but I wasn’t expecting it to be three hours long! From language schools to dance groups and children's bands to the senior community, it felt like every group in town had a spot in the parade. I left with a two-foot box full of treats!
Karneval is one of the biggest memories that’ll stick with me as I go home. It truly was such a unique experience and I am very happy about moving west at the perfect time.