Thursday, February 19, 2009

German carnival. Made famous by BWOF.

First, the costumes.
The witch and angel costumes were finished in time. Thank you for your optimism! Seeing as I started writing the second part of this post first, and it's, ahem, rather lengthy, I'll leave the costume review for another time.

Second, German carnival.
Before my vacation, I listened to Cidell and Trena's podcast (, and said to my husband, "Why on earth would two Americans discuss German carnival costumes?", not realizing that good old German Burda which is now Burda World of Fashion obviously only translates its content, but has the same patterns all over the world, including carnival costumes. Duh! So Trena's comment on my last post inspired me to write up a little cultural history and information on German carnival. I am by no means an expert, but I have lived near Cologne all my life, which is one of the epicentres of German carnival, so here goes:

Street carnival
This is where we went today. In our area, every town has several carnival parades, taking place on different days, usually between today (Thursday) and Tuesday, Wednesday being Ash Wednesday, the beginning of lent and thus the official end of the carnival season.

The parades consist of groups on foot and floats. There are short parades, like today's, with maybe 10 foot groups and 10 floats or so, going for 1 or two miles through a rural/suburbian area, the floats being small devices, maybe 4-6 metres high at most, pulled by small tractors. The big parades go on for hours, have several hundred groups, and cover a lot of ground. Those are also shown live on national TV.

The people on the floats and the foot groups throw candy and flowers. The audience is expected to shout "Kamelle" (Candy) and "Strüsscher" (flowers) to be thus rewarded. You may have to kiss the person giving you flowers if he/she is of the opposite sex ("Bützchen"). There is a lot of Bützchen going on, legalized by carnival. Firing up the mood is also a lot of loud carnival music, usually in the Cologne dialect (, and lots of Cologne specialty beer ("Kölsch"). Helped along by this party mood, street carnival also means large crowds of costumed people meeting in traditional carnival places, usually in the city centre, and dancing, singing, drinking and Bützchen-ing. You couldn't be in Cologne anywhere now without meeting costumed, singing people in various states of intoxication.

This word translates to "women's carnival" and means that today in many towns the women symbolically enter City Hall, take the keys from the mayor, and rule for the day. This made sense when the mayors and city governors were all male, and it's still carried on as a tradition. In offices, women cut off the men's ties, also symbolizing cutting off male dominance, I guess. When my parents first moved here, my dad wore his good tie on Weiberfastnacht and was in for a nasty surprise! Here, in carnival homecountry (not in all of Germany) most of the public life shuts down early on Weiberfastnacht, and school children go in costume and usually also have a big party at school today. On Monday, called "Rosenmontag", schools, administrations, and most businesses/shops are closed. It's sort of a public holiday by general consent.
Session carnival
A large part of carnival is made up of gatherings with eating, drinking and watching a show consisting of this season's star acts in (carnival) music, (carnival) comedy, (carnival) dancing troupes, and an appearance of the local carnival royalty (prince, princess and farmer or maiden, which can all three be men!) with their royal guard (a lot of carnival takes place in uniforms; that's supposed to have started several hundred years ago when the Cologne area was occupied by the French).
Phew! Not sure you really wanted to know all this, but at least now you have an idea why carnival is such a big deal that BWOF has to publish costume patterns all over the world!


  1. That was very interesting! We have Carnaval here too. The first Sunday of Jan (or after Epiphany) starts the season and the big celebration is Sun, Mon and Fat Tuesday.

    I love it, my favorite holliday. I'll try to find you a link.

  2. That is fascinating, thank you! I lived in Louisiana for many years and have participated in Mardi Gras, but the German Carnival definitely has its own different traditions. It sounds like a very fun time!



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