Anarchy reigns as Cologne's party animals take to streets

]SCREAMING hordes of children, inebriated civil servants in multi- coloured costumes, and armies of revellers kitted out in Napoleonic uniforms are girding their loins for one final push. Today is Rosenmontag, the last of the "crazy days", the climax of a season of orgy which punctuates the passing of years in the Rhineland.

Carnival is upon us, a time when noise is not only allowed but obligatory, when pedestrians resolve to at least try to ignore red lights, and urinating in public becomes a touching expression of comradeship. Every social convention is turned upside down. There is even a moment in the carefully choreographed hiatus when the women storm the town hall, seize power and cut off the men's ties. How Freudian can you get?

Since last Thursday, the start of the "crazy days", the streets have been overflowing with jolly bank clerks, cabinet ministers have been performing head stands for the benefit of the cameras, and shopkeepers have covered their stern faces with red paint. Today the partying and the adultery - which tradition and the law dictate is a forgivable sin if committed during carnival - will all come to an end. The edifice of order, smashed to oblivion in five fleeting days, will be rebuilt brick by brick. Just try putting on your washing machine after 10pm tomorrow.

But until the last float in a four-mile procession passes the town hall this afternoon, anarchy reigns. About a million people will teeter along the route, stuffing themselves with Wurst and guzzling litres of the local beer. "Kamelle, Kamelle," shout the children, waiting for the heavens to open up, showering them with chocolate bars and toffee. Cologne's businesses are spending more than DM1bn on "Kamelle" - "sweets" in the Rhenish dialect.

The townsfolk have been bingeing their way to Lent in this manner since 1341. Unlike the rest of Catholic Germany, where the various guises of the religious festival - Karneval, Fastnacht or Fasching - have retained some of their Christian spirit, Cologne has always preferred to go back to its pagan roots. And while other cities along the Rhine have tried to surpass Cologne in vulgarity, none have come close. Dusseldorf, it is true, scored in shock value this year by erecting a pair of giant breasts on a float, but its well-manicured upper class revellers are no match for the plebeian masses that file past Cologne's celebrated cathedral.

"All one can see is workers with filthy overalls, contorted masks and long hair; farmers in dirty costumes, repulsive nuns, and hags in old- fashioned clothes," observed a Bavarian courtier in 1802. "One can perceive, on these masked persons alone, to what depths tastes and education in Cologne have sunk."

The Bavarian's misgivings were shared by the French occupiers, who banned carnival for four years. In 1799, it was allowed again, only to be forbidden by the Prussians who followed in Napoleon's footsteps. It was exactly 175 years ago that the city fathers finally persuaded the Prussian masters to sanction a procession on Rose Monday.

Ever since then, the celebrations have followed the same rules, enforced by a committee of local business leaders. And because of Cologne's history of occupations, there has always been an anti-authoritarian streak in the festivities.

The season begins on 11 November, with organisers devoting 10 weeks of their life to designing costumes and floats, and rehearsing raunchy show- stoppers.

Everything, as you might expect, runs like clockwork. As the procession turns the last corner at four o'clock sharp, the road-sweepers are already poised with their brooms. Within a few hours, the detritus is cleared up, the drunks stagger home and shop assistants wipe away their smiles. Tomorrow, normal service resumes.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Account Manager

£20000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This full service social media ...

Recruitment Genius: Data Analyst - Online Marketing

£24000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: We are 'Changemakers in retail'...

Austen Lloyd: Senior Residential Conveyancer

Very Competitive: Austen Lloyd: Senior Conveyancer - South West We are see...

Austen Lloyd: Residential / Commercial Property Solicitor

Excellent Salary: Austen Lloyd: DORSET MARKET TOWN - SENIOR PROPERTY SOLICITOR...

Day In a Page

Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all
The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

The week Hollywood got scared and had to grow up a bit

Sony suffered a chorus of disapproval after it withdrew 'The Interview', but it's not too late for it to take a stand, says Joan Smith
From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?

Panto dames: before and after

From Widow Twankey to Mother Goose, how do the men who play panto dames get themselves ready for the performance of a lifetime?
Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Thirties murder mystery novel is surprise runaway Christmas hit

Booksellers say readers are turning away from dark modern thrillers and back to the golden age of crime writing
Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best,' says founder of JustGiving

Anne-Marie Huby: 'Charities deserve the best'

Ten million of us have used the JustGiving website to donate to good causes. Its co-founder says that being dynamic is as important as being kind
The botanist who hunts for giant trees at Kew Gardens

The man who hunts giants

A Kew Gardens botanist has found 25 new large tree species - and he's sure there are more out there