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Queen-ing during Karneval is no hardship indeed!
Miss German-America's trip to Cologne, Germany for Karneval 2012.
by Denise Manukian
The history of Karneval in Cologne is almost as old as the city itself and this year, I was able to experience it first hand as a guest of Herrn Bettermann, one of the Grand Marshalls of the 2011 Steuben Parade.
The earliest Germans celebrated the winter solstice to pay homage to the gods and to be free of the
winter demons. As the Christians adopted the custom, the precursor to fasting for Lent was known as "Fastnacht" or "Karneval." Karneval officially begins on "elften elften, elf Uhr elf" (11th November at 11:11am). While the months leading up to the "Tolle Tage," or crazy days , are fairly low-key, the five days of Karneval definitely make up for it. Each year, Karneval has a specific motto and this year's was
"Jedem Jeck sing Pappnas." This motto translates to the general population that during these days,
people are allowed to let loose and forget their worries and in that way, we are all similar. Festivities begin on Fat Thursday which is called "Weiberfastnacht" or the Women's Carnival Night. On this day,
women are allowed to actually cut off the tie of any man within reach and also kiss whoever they want
The highlight of Karneval is the Rosenmontag Parade (the Monday before Ash Wednesday) with
attendance of over 1.5 million people. The parade is a grand affair that lasts over five hours in which
spectators can view the 160 Karneval societies display their colors and pride for their city. These
societies create beautiful floats - true works of art that represent satirical, political and traditional
topics. Viewers are encouraged to carry plastic bags so they can pick up all the treats and sweets that
get thrown at them.
Having visited the city of Cologne many times due to my own personal ties there, I was extremely
excited to experience Karneval for the first time. My visit began on Thursday where I celebrated
Weiberfastnacht with my family and their friends in the heart of the city, near the Koelner Dom. I was able to catch a glimpse of how the next few days would transpire. The city was actually closed - all the streets were barricaded to cars so that the revelers could enjoy the fun. Everyone, no matter what age they were, was dressed up in beautiful and unique costumes - the German version of Halloween, only
better. The atmosphere was fantastic - the general feeling of freedom, laughter, happiness, and fun was extremely contagious. Food was abundant and so was the beer and drinking was actually allowed out in
the open - just imagine that in NYC!
On my second day, I attended the International Empfang (reception) at Deutsche Welle headquarters in
Bonn where Herr Bettermann is the Director General. Here I was introduced to the Mayor of Bonn as
well as the Prince and Princess of Karneval. There were live bands from the city itself, Scotland and
England. Needless to say, it was truly an unforgettable experience. On my third day of Karneval, I
attended a costume ball known as Mummenschanz in the Saatory Saal in Cologne with Herr Bettermann and the Ehrengarde der Stadt Koeln. The venue was packed to the brim with revelers, Karneval societies
and entertainment and I was able to see some of my favorite German bands perform traditional
Karneval songs in the dialect of the city, "Koelsch." The highlight of the evening was being called up on
stage by the Ehrengarde who will be visiting our beautiful city this September. They announced me to the room of over a thousand people and everyone cheered for me - what a truly humbling experience
and one that I am so grateful to have had!
On Rosenmontag, I attended the mayor's breakfast with Herr Bettermann where I met the Mayor
himself. There we were entertained by dancers, live music and fed with traditional German fare and of course, a delicious Koelsch (beer). After the breakfast, Herr Bettermann and I went to the Grand Stand to view the parade. The sheer number of people was staggering and the moment the parade started I had a hard time trying to take it all in - the costumes, the colors, the floats, the candy being thrown at
me, the music, even the elderly woman who cried next to me because she was so happy it was Karneval.
My Koelsche Karneval experience was one that I will never forget and if there is one thing out of all the festivities I could point out that truly touched me, it would be the people. Everyone was so welcoming
and inviting and treated me immediately like I was family. It was hard to resist the Karneval energy that these people exuded. My love of the city and my roots has grown tenfold and I can't say how proud I am to call Cologne my second home. I am so grateful to Herr Bettermann for his invitation and the Steuben Parade for allowing me to experience something this wonderful. As the Koelner's would say, "Koelle Alaaf!!"