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Festivals

Carnival in Cologne: 11 survival tips

For DW host Katty Salie, Carnival in Cologne means dressing up, dancing and singing for six days straight. She shares some hints for getting the most out of the festivities. Alaaf!

When I pack my suitcase for , what do I need to put in it?

For even the most minimalist of revelers, a wig is essential. Lipstick is also handy to have, because if you've got nothing else you can quickly paint a red noise or hearts on your cheeks, and you're suddenly in costume. Under no circumstance should you forget something to alleviate headaches.

How do you explain to a Carnival amateur what to expect?

It's an exceptional state of cheerfulness. There is no place for negativity here. An entire city parties for six entire days. Where else would you find this? People everywhere are in costume - even bus drivers, sales people and bankers. The pub carnivals are the best. Every brewery turns into a dance hall. Swaying shoulder-to-shoulder with strangers, dancing, singing, drinking Kölsch beer and the whole time feeling that you're visiting good friends.

Screenshot of DW Moderator Kathy Salie moderating the show, 'Hin und Weg'
Photo: K.Salie/ DW

Viewers would recognize Katty Salie as the host of German travel show 'Hin und Weg'

It all starts Thursday on "Womens Carnival night." What happens there?

This day is a must for all women, because they won't have to pay for a single Kölsch themselves. After the clock hits 11:11 am, Cologne turns into a party zone with its epicenter between Alter Markt and Severinstorburg. Women are in charge on this day and go around cutting off men's ties. As a consolation, men are allowed to bützen or give women a quick smooch on the cheek. But beware - men should ask permission for a smooch first instead of simply planting one.

If I'm going to take this seriously, then it looks like I've got six straight days of partying ahead of me. How can I survive?

Be sure to sleep in, don't start partying until the afternoon and go to bed relatively early. Sure, that doesn't always work. If you plan on drinking a Kölsch or two, the preparation is crucial: Lay the foundation with a high-fat food like sweet donuts or hearty meat sandwich. The costume must be pub-appropriate in the sense that you can easily peel off layers, since the bars get really hot. Those who dress as a rabbit in full-body plush might want to bring deodorant. There will be dancing until the moisture drips down the window panes. Comfortable shoes for dancing are also a plus.

At Carnival Salie is hardly recognizable as a blonde stewardness
Photo: K.Salie/ DW

At Carnival Salie is hardly recognizable as a blonde stewardness

Where is it especially fun to celebrate?

I prefer to hit up the bars in Cologne's Südstadt neighborhood. For me, it feels like samba in the winter. I start at Severinstorburg and see where the flow takes me. I just follow the other revelers. And wherever ladybugs, sailors and fairies are waiting patiently in line, just join them. Enjoy a Kölsch and start celebrating before you reach the entrance. It doesn't matter how full it is - the bars are totally packed, and there's dancing on tables and benches - go inside anyways. Just sway a bit and dance, and you're in.

Assuming I make it through to the evening, what's next?

Where to begin? Schneeball Party, Humba Party, Rosa Ball, Kamellebud, Stunksitzung, Rote Funken Ball, Blaue Funken Ball, Cologne Arena. There are hundreds of events in such a short time. Those who want to attend a fixed event, or a "session," however, needed to have purchased tickets months in advance. Those sorts of things are not for spontaneous revelers. Those folks are better off at a Carnival pub.

If attending a "session," then which one is best?

The Stunksitzung, or Stink Session, is always a treat. It's four hours of comedy, a great stage show and live music. Afterwards the comedians mix with the audience and everyone celebrates together. The Stink Session doesn't involve uniforms and clapping marches. It was originally conceived as a counterprogram to traditional Carnival sessions. In the 1980s it was still amazingly small, temporary and naughty. The "stinkers" often had lawsuits brought against them because of - and sometimes by - the Catholic Church.

Meanwhile, the anarchistic undertones have faded; it's become professional and huge with more than 1,000 people in the evening. It's still fun, though. The tickets - and this is the bad news - sell out within hours of going on sale. It's something to keep in mind for next year, though!

The big parade is on Rose Monday. What do I need to do?

Dress warmly and pick out a good spot along the parade route. Don't grab Kamelle (the candies thrown from the parade floats) away from children, or else you'll get in trouble with their parents, who could be costumed as a gorilla or witch. And keep your eyes open whenever you cross the tram tracks.

I'm personally a big fan of the neighborhood parades. Aside from the big Rose Monday parade, each borough has its own parade. They're more private, and the locals know each other. For those visiting friends in Cologne: Find out when the neighborhood parade is and join the celebration. It's lots of fun.

Salie, left, and her friends are never at a loss for creative costume ideas, as they here are dressed as three 'Jacob Sisters, with a poodle dog
Photo: K.Salie/ DW

Salie, left, and her friends are never at a loss for creative costume ideas

What's this I hear about "drumming?"

Cologne locals get teary-eyed as soon as they hear the song "Wenn dat Trömmelche jeht," or "When the little drum beats." Drums kick off the beginning of Carnival. For non-locals, this collective ecstasy might be hard to understand. I can only say: goosebumps. Of course, the Rose Monday parade is led by drummers. My personal favorites are the samba drummers. On Women's Carnival night, they meet at Severinstorburg in Südstadt.

Songs in the local Kölsch dialect are just as much part of the festivities as candies and Kölsch beer. What should I sing?

No worries. Not even all the locals know the words to the songs. I'll recommend my version: Just sing along loudly. And in an emergency, invent your own words. It's this feeling of togetherness #link:http://www.dw.de/wacky-kölsch-songs-set-the-stage-for-carnival/a-15727139: that the songs communicate and that you carry with you through Carnival.

Late Tuesday night at midnight sharp, heading into Ash Wednesday, Carnival is officially over. Is there anything else going on?

Of course! For the grand finale, there's the Nubbel burning. Nubbel is a straw-stuffed figure representing the evils of Carnival. Each neighborhood has its own Nubbel, which will be burned. And because we are in Catholic Cologne, all sins committed during Carnival are forgiven. All those smooches are reconciled, and we get back to everyday life.

Interview conducted by Anne Termèche.

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