Thursday was the opening of Karneval season, and Cologne is the epicenter of this “fifth season” of partying! Karneval season will run until Ash Wednesday, and the culmination is five days of Mardi Gras German-style in March. Everyone in the office was encouraged (technically it’s in our contracts) to dress up in costume. Unfortunately I didn’t get to join the crowd at 11:11am to see the official opening, but we wrapped work up early and had lunch followed by party games (and obligatory drinking) at 3. By 7pm we wrapped that up and headed out to a old-world style pub, which was absolutely packed, to consume local beer (Kölsch), listen to local patriotic drinking songs, and dance with the rest of Cologne who had been drinking since 11am. No pictures from this last part as I was wisely advised to leave my fancy camera at the office rather than risk having it stolen or drenched in beer in the packed quarters.
Two hours at a German bar full of drunk partying Germans was an interesting experience, and by the time I left I was starting to see what people mean about “by the end of Karneval you will either love or hate Cologne.” I got a really nice sensation from everybody having a more-or-less good time – people were more friendly and good-natured than I expected from people drinking for hours. But I could also see how one would absolutely hate it. Everyone sang along with the songs and drank the local beer and there was such an outpouring of drunk enthusiastic patriotism, it was something I’ve never seen before. Sometimes it was overwhelming, and sometimes I wished there was something to get drunk on besides beer (which I really don’t care for), but it was fun. I think going with my coworkers who are “professionals” of karneval, and being welcomed by an old guy who wanted to speak English with me and tell me about the traditions helped. He was friendly and bought me a beer and gave me one of his karneval pins at the end of my visit, which was cool. I love it when random people in the countries I visit give me pins! :D
My favorite part was the brass band that showed up a bit after we did – since I don’t know any Karneval songs, it was more interesting and fun to watch it played live than to just listen to traditional German music being played over the loudspeakers and drowned out by drunken off-key singing.
On the other hand, the floor of the bar was absolutely disgusting and I was glad my costume called for boots – bits of glass and cigarette butts soaked in large quantities of spilled beer are really gross, especially when they get stuck to your shoes. Just saying. :P