Carnival, one of the best weeks in the Netherlands, Germany and Switzerland. I know what you are thinking, isn’t carnival the event in Brazil with lots of street parties and parade? And the carnival in Venice where people simply drink for the entire festival? The answer is: yup and yup.
Carnival, in general, is a Christian event but it is also to celebrate the beginning of Spring. Many countries in the world celebrate carnivals like Brazil, Italy (Venice), the Netherlands, Germany, Switzerland, Poland, Greece and many more.
In Europe, Carnival is mostly celebrated in the Netherlands and German-speaking countries. Carnival is also known as “karneval” in German and “carnaval” in Dutch.
General History of Carnival
Carnival happens between 1 February to 9 March. Carnival dates are calculated according to Easter Sunday. It is 40 days before Easter Sunday, not counting Sundays. The event is also called Lent. Although the event only lasts for 1 week, preparation happens way before, on 11 November.
Carnival is a week-long festival, where no classes are held (in regions that celebrate it). During this week, there will be street parades, endless drinking and people dressing up. Imagine Halloween, but remove the slutty-outfits and increase the fun. People are singing in public, making friends and having a great time.
Other than being drunk, drinking is the thing to do during carnival. Everyone dresses in funny costumes and drink from morning till night.
The first carnival started in Cologne (Köln), Germany. Hence, Cologne is always one of the best places to be if you want to experience carnival. You have the largest parades and the biggest crowds. And I have to mention, Kölsch beer.
Carnaval in the Netherlands: Dancing and Partying
If you are in the Netherlands, you should be in Maastricht, the capital of Limburg. Limburg is located in the South-east of the Netherlands, at the borders of Germany and Belgium. The Dutch always say that Limburg is very different from the entire Netherlands, and this is one of the reasons. Limburg really celebrates Carnaval.
Fortunately, I was living in Maastricht. And you must know that Maastricht takes carnaval as seriously as Singapore takes the ban of chewing gum. Since November, households will start brainstorming, planning and preparing for the festival. After Christmas, shops start to sell carnaval goodies, with the signature Maastricht colours: green, yellow, red.
During that week, the entire city stops working to party. Universities shut and hence the week of drinking begins. In Maastricht, they take a year to choose the Carnaval Prince. The party starts when the Carnaval Prince arrives at Maastricht Train Station. Then, a group of people will be marching and singing the Limburg anthem before breaking into a mini-concert with the stage in the train station. It almost felt formal because people were marching and there was even a marching band!
After that, everyone started to gather in their groups to drink and party. Mind you, it was just noon. We grabbed a few beers and headed out to party. There were mini parades going on, the usual food trucks in Maastricht and bars were open. Music was also blasting from every bar.
We had some drinks and food, and proceeded to bar-hop. We stopped by every bar and danced on the streets. No one cared if you could dance or not. It was simply the type of street party where you just have fun.
This continued till evening when the sun was setting. Then, everyone proceeded to Vrijthof, the street in front of the largest square in Maastricht. There are bars with blasting music and the square is also filled with a stage and performances.
As the night got later, the party went inwards, to Platielstraat. This street has more bars and some (arguably) clubs. The street was crazy packed with people! There was also some songs where the beat dropped and everyone suddenly crouched down before jumping up and dancing to the beat.
The next few days is filled with parades and drinking. People were dancing a lot more and partying. They were also throwing candies from the parade platform, so be sure to catch some when you are there!
Karneval in Germany: Candies and Parades
The first carnival parade that ever took place in the world is in Cologne, in 1823! Hence, you can only imagine the crowd every year in Colgone. Other than the stunning bridge and the oldest fully-gothic style cathedral, Cologne is also known for their karneval parties.
Like always, Cologne is always fighting with Dusseldorf. Be it the Kölsch in Köln or Altbiers in Düsseldorf or even karneval parties! These two cities are always fighting to be the best street parade. Hence, you can only imagine how massive the parties are! (It’s crazily massive).
In 2016, however, Düsseldorf decided to cancel karneval party and change it to another day because of bad weather. (No one likes a sad and rainy karneval party.) So, guess what? Overnight, ALL the parade cars drove down to Cologne instead! The party got twice as massive!
Like the Netherlands, there was drinking. But we are in Germany, so drinking is also twice as hardcore. To wake up, we had redbull with vodka, followed by a few bottles of Kölsch. Then, the party began.
The entire day was parade cards moving through the street, throwing candies, flowers and toys. As we watched the parade cars pass, we also drank a lot. So by the end of the day, everyone is pretty much damn drunk. Unlike the Netherlands where it has more songs and dance, Germany is more drinking and making lots of noise.
I learnt a few German words that helped me get by the karneval party.
- Kamella (candy)
- Meine Frau (my lady)
I basically screamed “KAMELLA” the entire time when the parade cars passed, and they threw us lots of candies. I had several huge bags, but my friends decided to give them away to little kids. (I was so sad. I want my candies.)
Other than candies, I also received like 2 dozen roses! It was also approaching Valentines Day, so maybe that was why they gave out flowers. Other things include fancy tissue, vitamins and I even got myself a heart shaped pillow with “Ich Liebe Dich” (I love you). I guess it is funny to see an Asian screaming German words, so they gave me that pillow.
The parade cars are beyond hilarious. From giant Angela Merkel to REAL HORSES and tractors (farm animals excite me), everyone was super creative and funny.
As the day came to an end, the parade finished and the party started. Clubs and bars in Cologne came to live with people singing and dancing away.
Carnival is such a great week. Street parties, candies and lots of drinking. Why can’t every weekend be like that, isn’t? And the best thing is that not every country celebrates carnival during the same time. (which is weird, because it is 40 days before Easter Sunday, but don’t ask me why). This is perfect then, because you can celebrate carnival many times then! Carnival in Switzerland (German-speaking parts like Basel) usually happens in early March while the Netherlands celebrate it in early February.
Do share what you like about carnival and how you celebrate it! I really hope to join the Venetian and Brazilian ones next. But till then, see you in Cologne in 2017!
Trevellers is my way to change the world. Through my stories, tips and lessons learnt, I truly hope to inspire you to get out of your comfort zone, see the world and see who you truly are. Travel is more than just taking a selfie. Travel is an adventure, where you can truly become who you are, give you the time to reflect and grow to become the person you’ve always wanted to be.