Carnival for beginners


What you need to know about this fantastic event in the Rhineland

What is a ‘Bützje’, who is the ‘Hoppeditz’ and should you shout ‘Alaaf’ or ‘Helau’? 11 quick facts about the Carnival to prepare you for the Rhineland’s fifth season.

1 Karneval, Fastnacht or Fasching?

The difference between these words for Carnival comes down to the region: in the Rhineland, the word ‘Karneval’ is used, derived from the Latin words ‘carne levare’. Translated, this means ‘to remove meat’ and makes reference to the upcoming period of Lent. In Baden-Württemberg and the Rhineland city of Mainz, the Carnival is known as ‘Fastnacht’ and in the south of Germany, ‘Fasching’ is a standard term. The word ‘Vaschang’ is used to describe the last serving of alcohol before Lent.

2 How did Carnival come to the Rhineland?

The Romans brought the carnival to the Rhineland: during the Saturnalia festival, one of the most important celebrations of the ancient world, it was not permitted to do anything serious or important. Masters and slaves swapped roles and everyone was happy, making noise, drinking, dancing and joking around.

3 From Carnation Saturday to Violet Tuesday

Based on the Carnival’s best-known day, Rose Monday (Shrove Monday), the remaining days before Ash Wednesday have also been named accordingly in popular language: ‘Nelkensamstag’ (Carnation Saturday), ‘Tulpensonntag’ (Tulip Sunday) and ‘Veilchendienstag’ (Violet Tuesday).

4 Women’s Carnival Day: the women are coming!

The ‘Weiberfastnacht’ or ‘Altweiberfastnacht’ (Women’s Carnival Day) traditionally takes place on the Thursday before Ash Wednesday. The street carnivals start at 11:11 and married women, so-called ‘Möhnen’, storm the town hall to cut the ties of the men, as is traditional, and seize power. Alternatively, ‘Weiberfastnacht’ is also known as ‘Schwerdonnerstag’ (heavy Thursday), ‘fetter Donnerstag’ (fat Thursday) or ‘schmutziger Donnerstag’ (dirty Thursday). This is due to the Carnival tradition of slaughtering animals and making deep-fried Carnival cakes and doughnuts on this Thursday for the last time before Lent.

5 ‘Alaaf’ or ‘Helau’?

Using the right Carnival call is particularly important. Carnival-goers use different battle cries depending on the town and region. ‘Alaaf’ is used in Cologne and should not under any circumstances be confused with ‘Helau’, the battle cry in Düsseldorf. There are also many other calls: the people of Paderborn use ‘Hasipalau’ and in Tönisvorst, they shout ‘Klappertüt’.

6 The ‘Bützje’

A ‘Bützje’ is a kiss and during the Carnival, is a sign of joy and cheerfulness. These pecks are given to friends, good acquaintances and prospective new friends – either as a thank you or just for fun.

7 ‘D’r Zoch kütt!’ (the procession is coming!)

Rose Monday is the highlight of Carnival season and the street carnival which has been held here since 1823. Colourfully decorated floats weave their way through the towns of the Rhineland during this time. At the Rose Monday processions in Cologne and Düsseldorf, up to 450 tonnes of sweets, popcorn and crisps are thrown out to the crowds each year.

8 ‘Kamelle’, ‘Strüßjer’ and ‘Bützje’

In the past, ‘Kamelle’ were good old-fashioned boiled sweets which were thrown out to the crowd during the Rose Monday procession. Today they are chews, chocolates, chocolate ice cups and wine gums. Anyone heard shouting ‘Kamelle’ is indicating that they want sweets, while calling ‘Strüßjer’ means you would rather catch a tulip or a carnation. Recipients are generally targeted and women have a better chance! As a reward, the thrower may be given a ‘Bützje’ (kiss).

9 Rocking out!

There’s a lot of music and dancing at the Carnival – giving it everything! When a song with a swaying rhythm begins to play, an innate and flowing movement begins in the crowd (just join in, even if you don’t know those next to you!) This rocking to and fro works both standing and sitting.

10 Burying the ‘Hoppeditz’

During the night before Ash Wednesday, the good times come to an end and Lent begins. In order to wash away recent sins, the people of Cologne burn an effigy representing a fall guy, the so-called ‘Nubbel’. The people of Düsseldorf similarly carry the ‘Hoppeditz’, the Carnival fool, to its grave to mourn the good times.

11 The number 11

The Carnival season begins each year on 11.11. at 11.11 o’clock. There are different explanations for the significance of the number 11 in the Carnival: the number 11 is a particularly sinister number in religion. It represents self-indulgence and sin and defines people who fall outside of moral law. The number 11 also has identical digits.

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Alaaf, Helau & Hasipalau