11 things I learned from my first Karneval in Dusseldorf

One of the best things about living in this corner of Germany is carnival (Karneval).

Though carnival might be most closely associated with cities like Rio de Janiero, it’s still widely celebrated across Germany’s Rhineland – with Dusseldorf, Cologne and Mainz considered the three main ‘strongholds.’

So this year, I got to experience my very first Karneval in Dusseldorf – here are a few things I learned.

  1. Berliners are a big part of Karneval celebrations
Kicking off Karneval in November at work

Kicking off Karneval in November at work

Berliners (that’s a jam donut to you and me) are a bit part of kicking off the Karneval celebrations (don’t ask me why). Karneval officially begins on 11 November at 11:11 but the real partying doesn’t start until the week before Shrove Tuesday.

Both “starts” are marked by Berliners and wine. Not too shabby.

  1. 11 is a recurring theme

The number eleven crops up a lot in Karneval traditions – everything kicks off at 11:11 on the 11th day of the 11th month and the festivities are organised by a special council of eleven people.

Supposedly the significance of eleven (‘elf’ in German) is because it is an acronym for the French Revolution values of egalité, liberté, fraternité.

  1. Costumes are a big thing
My Karneval threads

My Karneval threads

Dressing up isn’t just for the kids – everyone wears a costume for Karneval – and I mean everyone. There is even a chain of dedicated Karneval costume shops, where I picked up my little number.

Group costumes are also a big trend in Dusseldorf it seems – you can’t move for packs of male nuns or a herd of roaming Primark onesies.

  1. Companies get in on the action

Literally everyone gets in the Karneval spirit.

Even Haribo gets in on the action...

Even Haribo gets in on the action…

  1. Guard your ties

One of the highlights of Karneval in Dusseldorf is Altweiberfastnacht (basically ‘Women’s Day’), when women storm the city hall and cut off the ties of every man they come across. According to tradition, they are also allowed to kiss any man they want. I was ambushed.

  1. Everyone is a Jeck

No, that’s not Jack in a strong German accent, ‘Jeck’ is a local Rhine-ish word for a carnival reveller and it gets thrown around a lot during Karneval.

  1. There’s a traditional Karneval hat

IMG_20150216_212903

…and it’s fabulous.

  1. Politics & parades
"Terror has nothing to do with religion."

“Terror has nothing to do with religion.”

One of the most famous aspects of Karneval is the parade on Rosenmontag – the day before Shrove Tuesday. The parade has become very well-known for its elaborate floats based on political satire and commentary on current affairs.

The most famous float this year was probably the one paying tribute to the Charlie Hebdo tragedy in Paris.

"You cannot murder satire"

“You cannot murder satire”

People on the floats repeatedly shout ‘Helau’ at you and lob sweets at your head.

  1. Helau vs. Alaaf

Any good Karneval stronghold has its own Karneval cry: you need to shout Helau in Dusseldorf and Alaaf in Cologne.

And like most things, Dusseldorf and Cologne are pretty competitive about Karneval, so probably best not to get them mixed up.

  1. Five days is a looong time

Karneval is known as the ‘fifth season of the year,’ as it technically lasts from early November to February. In actual fact, the majority of the celebrating happens over the course of five days – but five days is a loooong time to keep up with the drinking and celebrating.

Not sure how the Germans manage it, tbh.

  1. Karneval is for everyone

Karneval in the Rhineland

One of the nicest things about the celebrations is how inclusive they are. I saw just as many teenagers knocking back beer as I did pensioners in costumes taking their grandkids to see the parade.

Because it’s Germany, there is obviously a strong sense of drinking culture attached to Karneval, but that doesn’t mean you can’t join in without picking up bottle.

Overall, I really enjoyed my first Karneval. I think one of my favourite aspects is the fact that it isn’t that well known outside of Germany – it feels a bit like you’ve been let in on this amazing secret. There’s a lot of drinking and celebrating to be had, but the atmosphere didn’t once turn sour – I didn’t see any fights or tension, just a lot of people going out to have a good time.

Check out the rest of my photos below.

Would you fancy celebrating Karneval in Dusseldorf?
Comment below!

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18 responses to “11 things I learned from my first Karneval in Dusseldorf

    • I looked into it and it seems the first Karneval councils were founded in the 1830s. I heard it was a form a protest against the Prussians when they annexed the Rhineland, so I think that timing matches up…? (Don’t quote me on it though!)

      I didn’t know much about it either. I’m surprised it isn’t more well known in the UK because it’s one hell of a party. But on the other hand, I think it’s quite nice that it’s a bit of an undiscovered secret.

  1. Why do I immediately start singing this when i see you in your costume?:

    ‘Staaaaaaaaaand and Deliver!’

    😉

    Great post as always. Does everyone get time off work to attend this 5 day Karnival?

    • Glad you liked it, Ed 🙂 Thursday is a day off for most people (though it depends on the company) and the Monday is a bank holiday in the state, so everyone gets to celebrate a bit.

      P.s. I think I’m too young to understand your cultural reference… I wasn’t born in the 70s like you.

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