Kölle Alaaf

Since I was 12, I’ve hated clowns. Circuses are out of the question, and even watching my childhood favorite, Bozo the Clown, makes me shiver. It’s probably due to a dream Beth and I both had when we were in middle school. But suddenly, I found myself in a city where everyone was dressed as one – red noses, painted faces and a deranged look (in all fairness, that was due to the cold weather and all-day imbibing!)

Vesna, Kirsten, Maria, me, Juan, Briana and Cat

Juan el Vaquero and I at the ball
Carnaval Groups performing

bathroom break

Sightseeing at the Dom Cathedral, the largest in Germany

This is the Crazy Days, a five-day Lenten celebration and tradition of Cologne, Germany. I did Carnaval in Cadiz – the overnight macro-botellon where people drink themselves crazy, piss all over the streets and break bottles on anything blunt. I wasn’t really interested. But Kirsten invited us to spend the holiday with her family, and seeing as many of my Erasmus friends were going, I thought it a good excuse to see friends.
Beginning the Thursday before Ash Wednesday at 11:11 a.m., a week of drinking in the streets, costumes and, sadly, clowns fill the streets. Red and white, the colors of the city, are displayed around Cologne and parades troop down the main avenues. The festival dates back nearly 200 years to when the occupant troops asked for merrymakers who celebrated the rotation of the sun and the gods to clean up and organize the debauchery. Carne-vale was born, a farewell to meat before Lent.
Bri and I arrived to the Weeze airport late, met Cat and her friend Maria (already half of a bottle of Jack in) and took a bus to Cologne. Two hours later, Kirsten’s father, Erich, met us at the transportation depot and took us to nearby Elsdorf, a town of 6,000 covered in snow. A bottle of local beer was waiting for us.
The following afternoon, after a hearty breakfast of breads, meat and cheeses, we alternated taking showers, adjusting the glueless lace wigs we bought online and adding layers to our costumes. Doris, Kirsten’s mother, made us an assortment of soups, meant to warm our bodies and coats our stomach for the night ahead. Then me, Patti Mayonnaise, a cowboy, a flamenco dancer, a flapper, a devil, a cat and Madonna were ready for action.
The trip to Cologne, despite being 30km away, was a 20 minute car trip to Horrem and a 20-minute train ride to the steps of the Dom. The station was full of pirates, toreros and Venicians, while people chanted carnival songs and bands played. The extra layers were nice to have on as we trakked across the city, beer in hand, to a bierhaus. Too many people, so we opted for a cutre little place where all the drunk people (including the Jolly Green Giant) were arm-in-arm, singing and drinking beer.
Kirsten got us tickets to a big party in what seemed to be a civic center. All three floors were full of people in costume (thankfully no clowns!), live music, discos, carnival music groups and kiosks selling beer. The entrance hall was draped in red and white banners and drapes with life-sized nutcrackers posted throughout the long room. Up the grand staircase, there was a large auditorium more packed than a high school dance with more characters – Flava Flav, a Chicago Bears player and even the Blues Brothers. Every hour, a Carnival band trooped through the masses to perform cheerleading-like routines on stage. We spent time drinking beer (I think I counted 18? THEY WERE SMALL!!!!), dancing in the disco and eating pretzels.
Sunday counts with street drinking (we did some sightseeing) and Monday’s parade, the Rossentag, winds six miles through downtown Cologne, tossing out candy much like the Cabalgata here in Spain. I nearly bought a plane ticket home for Tuesday, but opted to stick with my plan to head home Sunday after a day of sightseeing and drink Gluewein, hot wine, to keep warm.
Two years ago, I went to Carnaval in Cadiz, a beach town a few hours away from Sevilla. Again, people in costume drinking cubatas outdoors in a big macro botellón, but to the point of breaking bottles over one another’s heads and pissing in the streets. I haven’t had the ganas to go back since. But Germany’s carnivals, which seem to return to the original purpose, were exciting, entertaining and not so beer-tainted. Just with more clowns.
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About Cat Gaa

As a beef-loving Chicago girl living amongst pigs, bullfighters, and a whole lotta canis, Cat Gaa writes about expat life in Seville, Spain. When not cavorting with adorable Spanish grandpas or struggling with Spanish prepositions, she works in higher education at an American university in Madrid and freelances with other publications, like Rough Guides and The Spain Scoop.


  1. […] floored at the wealth of options we have in a country I’ve already gotten to know, through Cologne’s Carnaval to a chilly, sans-camera trip to Berlin. I’ve long been fascinated with German history and […]

  2. […] to me was little more than a Ryanair hub with a direct flight from Seville. On my way back from Karnaval in Cologne, Germany a few years back, I had a seven-hour layover. Not willing to sit in an airport, I hopped a […]

  3. […] I happened to always be out-of-town for the festivities (though I did make it to Cologne for their classed-up Carnival). In 2011, I joined a few friends, this year dressed for the weather and better […]

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