Updated: Mar 11, 2021
Karneval (also known as Fasching and Fastnacht) is hugely popular throughout Germany.
The lively citywide parties are celebrated with colourful costumes, masked balls, street parades and political commentary. Everyone has the chance to dress up and be silly!
People dressed up in colourful costumes and wooden masks. Photo: Couleur via Pixabay
The festivities begin on the 20th February, known as Schmotziger Donnerstag (‘Fat Thursday’) or Weiberfastnacht (the Women’s Carnival), but the biggest celebration takes place on Rosenmontag (Shrove Monday – 24th). The celebrations end on Aschermittwoch (Ash Wednesday – 26th).
The most popular carnivals take places in Cologne, Düsseldorf and Mainz. In many cities, it's popular to have political floats. In previous years, these floats have depicted things such as Angela Merkel as a turtle stating, ‘the last of her kind’, and Theresa May giving birth to a three-eyed monster called Brexit.
Here are three of the best carnivals to visit this February:
20th – 26th February 2020, Cologne
Cologne is undoubtedly the European capital of Karneval. Giant street parties are attended by crowds of revellers across the whole city. During the festivities, you will often hear people shout Kölle Alaaf! meaning ‘Cologne above all!’, which is used as a toast. Countless bands compose music for the carnival every year, the majority of which is sung in Kölsch and used to declare love for Cologne and its people. Every year, three people embody the carnival spirit as the 'Dreigestirn', by dressing up as a prince (addressed as ‘Seine Tollität’ – His Madness), a peasant (addressed as ‘Seine Deftigkeit’ – His Heftiness) and a maiden (addressed as ‘Ihre Lieblichkeit’ – Her Loveliness).
20th – 26th February 2020, Mainz
Mainzer Karneval is one of the largest carnivals in Germany, and attracts thousands of visitors every year. Whilst it has the typical crazy costumes, celebrations, parades and cheerful atmosphere of any carnival, festivities place a particular emphasis on political and literary humour and commentary. A special feature to unique to Mainz is the huge Schwellköpp (swollen heads) made of papier-mâché, which are satirical portrayals of various Mainz characters and politicians. The festivities start in the idyllic old town in front of the Fastnachtsbrunnen in Schiller Square. The biggest children’s parade also takes place in Mainz on 8th February: the Jugendmaskenzug.
14th – 15th February 2020, Bremen
Bremen hosts Europe’s largest samba festival. In the city centre, people dance in colourful costumes to festive drumming and rhythmic samba beats. This year marks the 35th edition of Bremen’s Samba Carnival with the theme ‘Im Rausch der Liebe’ (the ecstasy of love). The organisers chose the theme because “all we need is love!”, as it is “die allerwichtigste Grundlage für alles Sein!“ (the most important foundation of all being).