Thursday, February 26, 2015

Köln: Karneval // Cologne: Carnival


February 14, 2015


It's been a bit of a stressful week, dealing with new classes and some personal issues at home. The spring semester has finally begun -- not only have classes started, but the normally quiet public transportation and little cafes near campus are now bursting with noise and bodies. I'm only taking three classes this semester and each of them only meets once a week within a 24 hour window, leaving me with loads of free time to occupy myself in. As my other friends are typically in class when I have all this available time, I have no excuse not to exercise more regularly, pick up a new hobby, and catch up on all the shows and books I've put off since starting university a year and a half ago.

On Saturday I took a day trip with Cara Beth and ten new friends to Köln (Cologne) for Karneval, essentially the German equivalent of Mardi Gras. I woke up at 4:30a to catch the tram to the Hbf, just in time to grab some coffee before our train left at 6:05a. Almost immediately after we got on the train we realised we had, yet again, hit a snag in our transportation plans. Everyone had the same first train and the same switch at Frankfurt Flughafen to catch the next train that arrived in Köln at 9:05a, but Cara Beth had a ticket that switched to an ICE train that arrived in Köln at 7:45ish, leaving her by herself in Köln for more than a hour before we got there. We figured it wasn't that big a deal and planned to meet up with her when we got there.

Our train took us alongside the Rhein and we saw numerous gorgeous villages and cities built on the river, including Mainz and Bonn. We arrived at Köln Hbf promptly at 9:05a, only to discover that Cara Beth's train had gone to Köln Flughafen and she was thus a 20 minute tram ride away. After multiple phone calls and map consultations, she finally made her way back to the group and we were on our way into the city. 

I've never been to a celebration like this before but I quickly discovered what the rest of the day would consist of when we walked around the market area and saw people in crazy, amazing costumes that put American Halloween to shame. Nearly every adult we saw was dressed up, displaying loads of creativity. Some were movie or comic book characters (including an incredible Johnny Depp-style Mad Hatter), cats, clowns, fairies, princesses... almost anything you can imagine. A large number of men were cross-dressing as female characters. My favourite were the three guys with spot-on Ghostbusters costumes, complete with ghostbusting equipment.

The other thing I noticed was that there were already people drunk at 9 in the morning, especially one guy we found that didn't seem like he had stopped drinking from the night before and was determined to stay smashed. We saw him multiple times throughout the city, each time with him attempting to imitate the way random strangers walked down the sidewalks.


We spent the majority of the day wandering around the city, joining in on the Karneval fun in the streets and admiring people's costumes. I was surprised not to see more drunk people during the day but everyone seemed like they were having a good time. Köln itself is a gorgeous city. Everyone knows the Kölner Dom (cathedral), but the streets are lined with beautiful buildings, and on one side it runs along the Rhein.









After walking around all day, we went back to the Rhein to sit down and enjoy some people-watching. Two boys came up to us to ask if we had any empty bottles they could have (to collect the Pfand at the store). One of the guys in our group was in the middle of his drink so he told them to come back later. One of the boys looked him straight in the eyes and screamed, "ZWEI MINUTEN!" (two minutes). His bag was full of bottles so his intimidation tactics seem to have worked.

Our group
Photo credit: Laetitia
Our group split in two for an hour in the evening -- half of us wanted to eat dinner and the other half wanted to get "a little bit drunk." We, as always, found a little traditional German place that could fit us at one table and enjoyed the only quiet time we got on the trip.


Dinner group
Photo credit: Laetitia
The street crowd got much drunker and wilder once the sun went down. The street in front of the Rhein was lined with tents under which anyone could buy booze and go dancing. We saw numerous, unintentionally hilarious intoxicated people, including one girl dressed like a minion from Despicable Me who liked to climb on light poles and pretend she was a ballerina, and another girl dressed like a man who staggered over to me and said, "I can go SO gay! How gay can you go?" (I politely refused her offer). We spent the remainder of the evening walking along the Rhein to the various tents and dancing to the weird music, before heading back to the Hbf at 9pm and finally making it back to Mannheim shortly before 1am.




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