How does the Cologne Carnival in the 21st Century differ from its beginnings?

Seminar Paper 2010 19 Pages

Cultural Studies - Empiric Cultural Studies



I. Introduction

II. Basics to understand the Cologne Carnival
2.1 Meaning of the “six rompy days” and its end
2.2 Explanation of the origin

III. The Cologne Carnival and its development
3.1 The start of the Cologne Carnival in the 14th and 15th Century
3.2 Continuation of the Cologne Carnival in the 16th and 17th Century
3.3 Establishment of the Cologne Carnival in the 18th and 19th Century
3.4 The Cologne Carnival in the 20th and 21th Century

IV. Important figures in the Cologne Carnival
4.1 The triumvirate
4.2 The fool

V. Conclusion


I. Introduction

Kölle Alaafis the battle cry for the kickoff to the Cologne Carnival session. In the year 1733KölleAlaaffirst appears as praise and drinking phrase. It meansjust colognes.[1]

In this essay, I will have a deeper look at the reference between the historical Cologne Carnival in its beginning and the modern Carnival in 2010. For this, I will talk about the Carnival Session itself to prove what the story is with the six days of Carnival. The Thursday is no usual weekday anymore, but the start of a week in which Cologne is in an exceptional state. Furthermore, I would like to focus on the question of the roots of the Cologne Carnival and the misinterpretation thereof and how this is still common today. To compare the beginnings of the Cologne Carnival with the one today, one needs a historical point of view. Insofar, I have studied the history of the Cologne Carnival and examined the most significant events. My main attention lies with the human interaction and behavior, the exercised customs and the further development of the tradition of Cologne. At the end of my essay, I will show the main characters of the Cologne Carnival.

This essay should answer the question of what the Cologne Carnival means today. The focus is on my main question “How does the Cologne Carnival in the 21st Century differ from its beginnings?” This essay leads you through the history of the Cologne Carnival and how its forms developed. The conclusion will give you an overview over my worked out insights.

As a realkölsch mädche(Cologne dialect, it means Cologne girl) I am for sure confident with the folk celebration of Carnival, the meanings and the way the customs are practiced. A few years ago, it was unthinkable for me that someone doesn’t know the tradition of the Cologne Carnival. Even if the city of Cologne is worldwide known and the Carnival spirit is in the century of the internet and TV accessible for everyone. An exchange student from Australia made it clearer for me: She had a culture shock as she watched the street celebration. On this account, the essay is a task for me to arrange a wide knowledge about the Cologne Carnival.

With this essay, laymen and involved people should get new realizations about Cologne’s most important folk celebration.

II. Basics to understand the Cologne Carnival

2.1 Meaning of the “six rompy days” and its end

The termCarnivaldescribes the season fromWeiberfastnacht(Carnival Thursday) untilCarnival Tuesday. The latin term for Carnival iscaro, the German translation for this ismeat. In the Late Middle Ages, the termcarnivalresulted from the derivationcarnevaleandcaro.Since 1699 the word Carnival is known as a general term in German speaking regions for celebration. The derivation means the start of the suspension from meat, the end of the pleasure to eat meat.[2]

The Cologne Carnival starts on Thursday (Cologne dialect:Wieverfastelovend). The meaning of the name has to be attributed to an old customMötzenbestoht (Cologne dialect). This was a custom, where women and girls took off the bonnets of each other (German term: Mützebestapelung). This custom descended from nuns who also amused themselves that way onPriest-Carnival(original word for Carnival on Thursday/Weiberfastnacht).

“We celebrated the carnival with all pleasure, and we were dressed up as clergyman and made fun out of it. During those days we danced and jumped around”, wrote a nun in 1729 in an Abbey of St. Mauritius in Cologne.[3]

On the streets of Cologne theBellegeck( a jerk, who was hung all over with cymbals) initiated the start of the Carnival by shouting rhymes and phrases. Today Weiberfastnacht in Cologne is the opener of the street carnival where no parades are on the street yet.[4]

It is a current ritual that women cut off the men’s ties. The tie is a symbol for the masculine power. In the French Revolution the tie was a political symbol and a distinguished feature already. The aristocracy wore white silk ties and the proletariat wore colored cotton cloth. The people from Cologne orientated themselves strongly on the Paris fashion during the French Revolution. The consequences will be elaborate in the next chapter. Thus, the cutting of the tie is a symbol for independence of the city Cologne, free from any foreign occupation.

Far reaching is the celebration onCarnival Friday, on which the Carnival hustle started only a few years ago in Cologne. The reason for that carnival free day was “(...) a pope edict from 1748 [which] forbid the practice of customs on that day (…)”.[5]

OnCarnival Saturdaysessions and costume balls take place. The yearly ritual is the alternative carnival procession, calledGhost Procession, which was invented in 1992. This has been done, because the procession onRosenmontag (Shrove Monday/Rosemonday) did not take place due to the Second Gulf War.

The today well knownCarnival Sunday, formally known asLaetare, called after the 11th CenturyRosesunday. The reason for that name was the roman pope, who entered the altar of the Lateran Palace with a golden rose. The pope called attention to the weeks of suffering, which starts on the next Sunday. The rose symbolized here the picture of Christ’s.[6] The name Rosemonday (better known as Shrove Monday, Cologne dialect:Rusemondaach), which was originally followed on Rosesunday, came from the occasion that the committee, (which organized since 1824 the processions of the Cologne Carnival) built afellowship on Rosemonday.[7]The older term for Shrove Monday wasGeiler Montag(randy Monday). Geilmeant originally happy and boisterous.[8] The Shrove Monday is with its Shrove Monday processions the climax of the Carnival.

TheCarnival Tuesdayis the last day on which carnival is allowed to be celebrated. The end of the Carnival is introduced by the ritual of theNubbel burning. A straw puppet, theNubbel(Cologne dialect, meanssomeone) is burned at midnight. This transition ritual symbolizes the sin of Carnival. Through the death of the Nubbel, the sinner (carnivalists) can convert from the Carnival Devil State to the Fasting God State.[9]

“Everything is over on Ash Wednesday” has sung the Cologne Artist Jupp Schmitz recently in 1953, but this regulation was well known much earlier:

“The council of Benevent said on the 31th of March 1091 expressly, » no layman should dare to eat meat after Ash Wednesday «. Rather should everyone (...) receive the ash on there heads.”[10]

In the ancient times ash was already a symbol of cleaning; it was the base for the soap production and was used as laundry detergent. The custom, to sprinkle ash on the head, is a sign of penance and should be a reminder for the transience of human beings and should move them to turn back. In modern times the ash cross replaces the sprinkling on the head. Thus, Ash Wednesday introduces the time of reflection and preparation for the Easter celebration (forty-day-period).

Today it is a custom in Cologne, to eat fish on Ash Wednesday: The initial letters of the Greek “Jesus Christ, Son of God and Savior” results in the word ΙΧΘϓΣ (Ichthys), which means fish.[11] Therefore, fish was, in early Christian times, a symbol for Christ’s. The fish meal on Ash Wednesday represents an appropriation of new life. Therefore, the ash cross and the fish meal marks the beginning of a new time, the end of the Carnival and the beginning of the forty-days-fasting-period, which should remind people of Jesus forty-days-fasting-period in the desert.


[1]Cp. Fuchs, Peter/ Schwering, Max-Leo: Romantische Reform des Kölner Karnevals, in: Fuchs, Peter (Ed.): Kölner Karneval: Seine Geschichte, seine Eigenart, seine Akteure, Köln 1984, P. 32-57, here P. 47.

[2]Cp. Moser, Dietz-Rüdiger: Fastnacht, Fasching, Karneval, in: Moser, Dietz-Rüdiger (Ed.): Fastnacht, Fasching, Karneval, Graz; Wien; Köln 1986, P. 10-17, here P. 11.

[3] Qutd. in Fuchs, Peter/ Schwering, Max-Leo: Mittelalterliche Sinneslust, in: Fuchs, Peter (Ed.): Kölner
Karneval: Seine Geschichte, seine Eigenart, seine Akteure, Köln 1984, P. 19-27, here P. 24.

[4]Cp. Euler-Schmidt, Michael: Der Hanswurst, in: Schäfke, Werner (Ed.): Kölner Maskenzüge 1823-1914, Köln 1991, P. 47.

[5]Qutd. inMoser, Dietz-Rüdiger: Vom schmutzigen Donnerstag zur rechten Fastnacht, in: Moser, Dietz-Rüdiger (Ed.): Fastnacht, Fasching, Karneval, Graz; Wien; Köln 1986, P. 18-27, here P. 20.

[6]Cp. Moser: Vom schmutzigen Donnerstag zur rechten Fastnacht (as note 5), P. 21.

[7]Cp. ib., P. 20.

[8]Cp. ib., P. 20.

[9]Cp. Moser, Dietz-Rüdiger: Am Ende sind die Beutel leer, in: Moser, Dietz-Rüdiger (Ed.): Fastnacht, Fasching, Karneval, Graz; Wien; Köln 1986, P. 326-337, here P. 329 „Es lag deshalb nahe, auch die in der Fastnacht institutionalisierten Verstöße gegen das Gesetz Gottes auf diese Weise zu ahnden (...). Jedenfalls läßt sich so erklären, warum man beispielsweise vor 1565 in Münster am Schluß der Fastnacht eine Art Inquisitionsgericht über den »Gecken« abhielt, eine Puppe aus Leintuch, der man mit Hilfe von Heu und Stroh menschliche Gestalt gegeben hatte und die das Fest selbst beherrschte. Dieser »Geck« wurde beklagt, an allen Ausschreitungen der Fastnacht schuldig gewesen zu sein (…)“.

[10]Qutd. inMoser: Vom schmutzigen Donnerstag zur rechten Fastnacht (as note 5), P. 22.

[11]Qutd. inMoser, Dietz-Rüdiger: Am Aschermittwoch ist alles vorbei, in: Moser, Dietz-Rüdiger (Ed.): Fastnacht, Fasching, Karneval, Graz; Wien; Köln 1986, P. 338-345, here P. 344.


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Title: How does the Cologne Carnival in the 21st Century differ from its beginnings?