Karneval - A Celebration for Everyone
Trip Start Oct 25, 2007
61Trip End May 15, 2008
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So once we experienced the first one and realized that we "should" have listened to what other people told us, we paid real close attention to what they said about the second one. We were told to expect thousands of people crowding the streets, people drinking everywhere, and in essence, a party unlike anything we've ever seen. When we saw businesses closing early and stores being boarded up, it was safe to assume that everyone here was preparing for a magnificent event that would make even those celebrating Mardi Gras jealous
As anticipated, the first day of Karneval in Cologne was even crazier than we thought it would be. Weiber Fast Nacht (Women's Day Out) kicked off the five-day long celebration beginning early in the morning and lasting all through the night. Because Steve had to work during the day, I was the only one who really got to experience the madness. It began with a train ride into the city standing shoulder to shoulder with the other hundred women drinking beer next to me. The train was so crowded that I could have jumped up and the let the mass of people carry me off the train without ever having to walk. Wherever I went the crowds followed...more people than I ever imagined there would be.
On the second day of Karneval we were expecting more of the same. As tradition holds, the party continues for five days straight and doesn't let up. So when we got on the train again on Friday you can only imagine our surprise when the train was not only empty but no one was wearing costumes. We saw no parties in the streets, no one was drinking, and the only indication that anything special happened the day before were a few beer bottles scattered on the sidewalk. If you didn't know any better, it was a typical Friday in Cologne.
As far as partying went, the atmosphere really didn't change much during Karneval. With the exception of a few gatherings scattered here and there, it wasn't at all what we were expecting. Perhaps the partying took place in areas we didn't explore, but the massive crowds we were waiting to see never came. All weekend we kept asking ourselves, "Where is everyone? If more than a hundred thousand people came to Cologne to celebrate this tradition, where are they?" These questions were quickly answered on Karneval Sunday and Monday.
As we were walking around on Sunday afternoon trying to kill time before the Super Bowl, we stumbled upon a large crowd of people along one of the streets. We heard music playing from several different marching bands and saw children walking around with bags full of candy. As soon as I noticed that it was a parade, my first thought was..."OK, what's the fastest way to get out of here!"
I hate parades. I always have. Probably because I had to march in them when I was kid and I got stuck watching them almost every year because it is part of Holland's tradition. But these parades were different and this is why...they throw candy! That's right...everyone walking in the parade carries big bags full of candy and they throw into the crowd
As soon as I realized this, I ran up to the crowd and squirmed my way up to the front. At first I was all about catching the candy. I was jumping in the air trying to catch pieces and crawling on the ground to pick up the ones people dropped. Everything was great until I got shin-kicked by a kid who thought I stole his candy bar. After that, I gave up on the "treats" part of the parade and focused more on taking pictures of the children dressed in their costumes. They were absolutely adorable and some of them were so little that they weren't sure what was going on. Mom had to show them how to hold their bag out and after the kids in the parade put candy in it, they dumped the whole bag on the ground so they could see what was inside!
In addition to seeing the cutest costumes I've ever seen, the floats were amazing. Whenever they would pass by, all of the children would yell, "Kamelle", which means "Sweets". This works much like when American children yell "Trick or Treat!" At first it was really cute but after hearing them yell it over and over again, we were wishing their parents had brought mute buttons. Steve was especially irritated by this constant yelling and yet the very next day while we were at the big parade, I heard him yell out, "Kamelle" as we watched the first float go by. I started laughing and he smiled at me and said, "What...you have to yell it if you want to get the good stuff"!
By the end of the Children's Parade on Sunday and the Big Parade on Monday called "Jeschenke for Kolle" (Cologne Gets Treats), we had filled Steve's backpack with candy
The day of the Big Parade (which concluded the Karneval celebration), people lined the streets for eight miles to watch the floats go by. There were thousands of people scattered along the parade route and there were people everywhere! Everyone was smiling, kids were laughing, and of course some of us were partying a little bit too! What I appreciated most about the day was the fact that everyone seemed happy. The kids were happy because they were getting candy, the parents were happy because their kids weren't crabby, the teenagers were happy because they were drinking, the older people were happy just because they love watching parades, and the tourists were happy because they were seeing something new. It was a great day for everyone.
Looking back, our experience of Karneval was an "unexpected surprise" to say the least. Parades and children's costumes replaced stumbling drunks and broken bottles and I'm really glad it turned out that way. For a person who hates parades, they must have been something special because we stood in the rain for four hours until we watched the very last float go by! So you might ask...will this experience change my opinion of the Tulip Time parades back home? Probably not...unless they decide to start throwing candy too!