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Carnival in Cologne – The Opening Ceremony

On Sunday, November 11, 2012, at 11:11 am, or to put it more succinctly on 11/11 at 11:11, the Cologne Carnival, one of the most popular carnivals in Europe, will be officially opened. It is considered by some people to be Europe´s answer to the Carnival in Rio de Janeiro. Many think that carnival is usually celebrated in February. While that’s true, in this beautiful city on the Rhine it officially opens a few months earlier, gives way to the Christmas holidays and then returns in full force in February.


The opening ceremony will be held in the Heumarkt, which can be considered the main square of Cologne, at 9:00 am and will be led by a trio of characters: the prince, the farmer and the maiden, also known as the Dreigestirn, the triumvirate. These three characters are indigenous people who pay a large sum of money to have this privilege and be the stars of the biggest event in the city. It should also be noted that the character of the maiden is always played by a man disguised as a woman, which gives a touch of comedy to the event. The Dreigestirn are accompanied by an orchestra and the square is full of carnival revelers who are ready to party. Each year about 70,000 people attend this event. At 1:30 pm, the traditional play Jan un Griet is performed in the Severinstor. It’s a story of unrequited love between the gentleman Jan and the maid Griet. It is followed by a procession in honor of Jan (whose real name was Johann von Werth, a German army general in the 17th-century) that continues until it reaches the Alter Markt with its music and dance performances.

In Heumarkt there’s a program of activities throughout the day that will last well into the night with live music and theater to entertain the crowd that gathered there all day long. Internationally renowned artists take turns leading the party which spreads throughout the city, where all of the streets are overtaken to accommodate the carnival revelers.

Carnival in Cologneis considered the fifth season of the year, and the theme for this edition is Fastelovend em Blot – he und am Zuckerhot, which would mean “Carnival in our blood, here and in Rio” in the local dialect. The people of Cologne are very proud of their city and carnival is the best way to celebrate it, with shouts of Kölle Alaaf! (Cologne above all) echoing throughout the city.

The party will continue into the wee hours of the morning, with bars, pubs and clubs open all night even though it’s Sunday, and the traditional local beer, Kölsch, is served everywhere. And don’t forget the local tradition that when you return to the bar with your glass to get a refill of Kölsch beer, the bartender won’t stop pouring until you put your hand on top of the glass. This day is just the beginning of the real carnival activities in February, but that is another story.

For more information, visit the official website of the carnival: http://www.cologne.de/events/cologne-carnival

The city will be chock full during this time, so if you want to spend a day or two to catch this event, you should book your accommodations in Cologne very soon. Afterwards, you can always experience more if you return in February when the party continues for six more days of craziness.