Cologne is a very peculiar city, with a rich history, and a rich sense of tradition. One tradition that the city harnesses is what is known here as the "fifth season" or Karneval season. I was lucky enough to be here, yesterday, on the 11th of November which marks the beginning of Karneval at 11:11am every year. The season takes a break during Lent and Christmas, and continues until Ash Wednesday in a large week-long celebration. November 11th is the first taste of what Karneval is all about, and sadly for me, at least for this year, is the only taste of Karneval I will get since I will be leaving in December.
I wasn't exactly sure what to expect from the celebration, but I knew that it was a big deal. Even as I rode my bike to work I saw people on the streets drinking beer, blowing whistles, and wearing costumes ranging from cowboys, to tigers, and traditional Kölsch garb. When I arrived at work, anticipation was high for those of us that decided to take a half day in order to celebrate the festival.
"Mom, I swear, it's just culture!"
Since the official festival began at 11:11am, I was still in the office, and worked up until 12:00 where I then proceeded into the break room. There, several of my colleagues and bosses were wearing their costumes, drinking Kölsch (Cologne's Beer), and eating a large breakfast.
Directions got a little bit mixed up on our way out, and I lost our group for a little bit before calling someone to meet up shortly after, however while I was lost, I was caught in huge amounts of people gathered in the old part of the city (city center), singing, drinking, and dancing all in costume. A girl dressed up as a nurse came up to me and was trying to check my heartbeat, and tried to give me her phone number when a camera crew for a big TV station here came up to me asking why we were exchanging numbers and such, which only added to the chaos that was around me. I am sure that my German was hardly understandable as I was dealing with the shock of a tv crew in my face while getting my heartbeat checked by a nurse (no, she wasn't a real nurse!).
Anyways, I finally met up with my group in the south part of the city, and we were in a traditional Cologne bar that was packed full of celebrators. We were there for hours dancing to the typical Köln Karneval music, drinking Kölsch, and having a good time. At 6:00pm we left and grabbed some Turkisch food, and I headed back to my apartment and fell asleep not to wake up again for hours. I swear, Mother, it is all part of the culture! It wasn't just young people celebrating Karneval, it was all ages, young to old, men and women, celebrating a tradition hundreds of years old.
Karneval was a great experience, and I had a great time out with all of my colleagues. Even though I won't be here in Cologne for the end of the celebration in February, hopefully it will not be my last time here to celebrate Karneval.