It’s getting close to Carnival time here in Germany – however due to the Corona pandemic festivities will be somewhat muted this year, if virtually non existent. Normally, at this time (around mid February), the whole population goes a bit crazy and dons silly costumes to vanquish the malevolent spirits of winter. It’s all most un-german; banks and railway stations become impromptu party venues (with free drinks dished out) and seemingly everybody goes a bit mad. It’s not that Germans don’t like to have fun; it’s just that the Germans choose to pigeon-hole their enjoyment and pack it all into one week of frivolity !
From a Scottish perspective, Carnival (or “Karneval” auf Deutsch) is a bit like Hogmanay in fancy dress. Unsuspecting visitors, arriving in a major town such as Cologne or Aachen, will bump into (and trip up over) all manner of carnival detritus including drunken people dressed as pirates, cave men, carrots or even as giant tubes of tooth paste; it’s all quite surreal really ! The street carnival is fun and accessible to all, however we’ve found it more enjoyable with the kids to head to smaller towns and villages in the Eifel, where it’s not generally quite so packed and the atmosphere is more congenial and informal. The floats are also lower, more accessible and less elaborate and often feature themes based around local topics or political satire.
One place we found great to visit in previous (pre-corona) years during Carnival, is the small community of Blankenheim located in the NE of the Eifel Region. It’s a lovely old historic place of meandering streets and half timbered houses – the sort of place that would make an ideal film set for a period drama. There’s a really friendly atmosphere there and no massive crowds jostling for the best spot, as in Aachen or Cologne; just one big, friendly, street party for the locals really, which features of course, the obligatory float procession through the streets. During these float processions, all manner of weird and wonderful costumes are worn and the bystanders also join in with their own festive garb. Sweeties and treats are thrown out of the floats to passing bystanders. The goodies are thrown with some force and you can end up getting quite a sore head if you’re not careful.
There is also a unique and atmospheric evening procession in Blankenheim, known as the “Geisterzug” or “Ghost Procession”, which dates back to 1613. During this event, “fools” dressed in ghost costumes, hop and dance through the darkened streets with the shout of “Juh-Jah” to drive away the dark winter demons. The Blankenheimer Obergeist (or head ghost) moves through the narrow streets at the head of the procession, accompanied by the music of the traditional carnival march, “Juh-Jah Kribbel en d’r Botz”. Several thousand visitors come to the town to witness the event. During the ghost procession, the street lighting in the town center is switched off to create an eerie atmosphere, the place being illuminated only by the torches of the spirits.
The daytime procession held on Rosenmontag is really the main party for the locals though. We enjoyed watching the procession enormously and the diversity of eclectic costumes on show. It’s possible to scoop quite a cache of treats at these processions with many bringing a carrier bag along to mop up the bounty. We found though that people are not too greedy in Blankenheim and instead of fighting over the detritus, as in some bigger cities, people will instead pick up the goodies and then pass them on to the kids. Of course the kids picked up enough sweeties to last the whole of the next year. This year though, thanks to Corona, they’ll be needing to go on a bit of a diet I fear…