Karnival in Köln

The festival of Carnival is one that is celebrated in many parts of the world with links to both Christianity and the winter solstice. Carnival in the city of Cologne(Köln) has been going on for nearly as long as there has been a Cologne, but the festival as it exists now has undergone many changes. The official festival committee was founded in 1823, which started the era of the festival being celebrated in the current fashion (2000 years of Carnival). Seeing as the season starts every year at 11:11 on 11/11, two friends and I decided we had to take part after hearing about it from nearly every coworker and German from the area. The festival is a long standing tradition within the region that has morphed to become a celebration of the region more than anything else. The city appoints a committee every year to organize the event, and thousands of tourists and regional residents make their way into the city for the day (11th November).

The carnival takes place over many days, starting on the 11th of November and continuing into February with a suspension through advent and the Christmas season. We were told that the main festivities would be taking place at Heumarkt, an open square in the older city which is bordered mainly by bars and restaurants. However, the festival couldn’t be missed from all the way at the train station. Festival goers were all dressed in a variety of costumes from funny to fabulous all over the city. One thing that could quickly be noticed was that there was an increase of police presence in the city as a result of the festival. Being a festival that encourages all day drinking, the police were making themselves very visible, however most festival goers seemed not to notice and under control. Despite this, drinking, dancing and costumes seemed to definitely be the main focus of the day’s event. Having only recognized one song all day it was a bit difficult to feel a part of the festivities, although this did not stop Germans from singing along with them. At the festival we were clearly tourists, only myself speaking german of the group, but were nevertheless welcomed by nearly everyone nearby. It was also interesting to hear the numerous languages that were being spoken at the festival, it seemed that regardless if you had been living in the region for a week or your family had been there for centuries, everyone was welcomed at the festival.

As far back as history can tell us, Carnival has been a celebration of the individuality of the city. Whether Cologne was under French or Prussian rule, Cologne worked to celebrate uniqueness of the city with it’s deep rooted traditions (Brophy 43). The festival, like the region, has a long history of Catholicism that still exists today. However, it is tough to see how this relates at all to Christianity other than it’s timing within the Catholic calendar. In this way, and many others, it is very similar to Mardi Gras in that it celebrates the time leading up to Lent. Cologne and the festival have both changed amazing amounts over their history’s, and now the festival seems more about simply celebrating those who come to it no matter who they might be, as well as Cologne itself (DeWaal 498).

All of this change can be seen in the welcome of all sorts of cultures into the festival. While most of the foods and drinks at the event were typically german and more specifically from the region, there were also things that showed the influence of other cultures. There were many who were in full costumes but with religious head coverings, a number of food vendors offering Turkish food and Dutch food, two of the city’s influential immigrant populations. Cologne having one of the largest homosexual populations for a German city was also evident in the numerous pride flags around. All sorts of cultures could be seen wherever you looked at the festival, which really showed the truth in the city’s claim to a cosmopolitan and tolerant attitude. The festival is even now starting to be seen as a way for homosexuals to demonstrate their pride and contributions to the city.

When talking to people on the crowded train to the city, as well as at the festival they all seemed excited to have Americans visiting and celebrating with them. It also surprised me to see many people who were not originally German taking part in the festival, and seeming to enjoy celebrating the culture of Germany much like I did. It did not seem out of character at all for a man to be wearing typical Bavarian style clothing, drinking a beer from Cologne, and all the while speaking Italian to his wife or girlfriend. The festival grounds seemed to be a melting pot of many cultures coming together for the celebration of a distinctly German city.

The only people who seemed to be looked down upon by the festival goers were those were not participating in the festivities. Many times those who were not in a semblance of a costume, or displaying some sort of Cologne pride were called out. It seemed that because nobody, but those who worked in the restaurants and bars, had to work so nobody had an excuse not to be celebrating the holiday. Even the train attendants had scarves and hats specifically for the day. This sort of exclusion reminded me of the St. Patricks day tradition of animosity to those who are not wearing green or displaying some sort of Irish pride.

This being only the second German festival that I’ve participated in, I think the Germans definitely enjoy the prospect of drinking all day instead of work regardless of the reason. I think this sort of festival belies the usual stereotypical workaholic German that is exhibited in a lot of the media especially within the European Union. Talking to my friends that accompanied me, to their first holiday festival, they agreed that this certainly broke some of the stereotypes they had heard about Germans. They felt that despite the inherent “Germanicness” of the whole event that Germans were excited to share what the festival was to those unfamiliar in English. In fact they were excited to share their culture and its celebration with those had recently immigrated, showing what could be seen as the opposite of nativism almost.

In the current economic climate in Germany immigrants are coming from all over to find jobs that seem to be diminishing in their own countries. This however has been coupled with overall economic growth in Germany, which I believe allows for immigrants to be welcomed into the country, especially those who are interested in assimilating. Germany’s history, of what could be put very lightly as xenophobia, may be haunting those who now live here as they celebrate and share the culture of the region.

The costumes that many of the festival goers were wearing were those that would be seen at any American halloween party. Aside from a few simply colorful and flamboyant costumes nothing seemed to out of the ordinary, or even inherent to the festival other than a few hats with Cologne’s crest. However one thing we did notice to be a common costume was one from the American movie starring Tom Cruise, “Top Gun” pilots seemed to be one of the most common costumes of the festival. This struck me as a symptom of the globalization that is ubiquitous at this point in most developed nations. A movie like this being adopted by a culture so much that you can see multiple Germans singing along to traditional songs with their jumpsuits and sunglasses on really showed me how easy it is for some things to cross cultures so easily. It also showed how something that has been largely forgotten like that, at least in the realm of costume ideas, can be such a staple for a different nation where it may have been more popular or longer lasting than its country of origin.

Off Season Travel

Pretty much everyone always could use a vacation. Whether you are a high powered executive working 80 hours a week or a bartender working six nights a week, either way you probably wouldn’t mind a few days off. The problem is for many of us getting together the money to make a trip worthwhile is just as hard as getting time away from work. However, there are some who have found ways to make their dollars go further and make the most of their time by looking at where they go and when they go there. Two of the ways people have figured out in order to travel on the cheap are, traveling to lesser known destinations and traveling when others aren’t. Off season travel is the type of thing that lets people without children or a traditional job go to all of the places that they might not be able to get to at its usual price point.

The most important thing about traveling in the off season is to do some research about where you want to go, otherwise how would you know when the off season is in the first place? Travelers often hear very polarizing stories about off season travel and that is usually because of the amount of research that went into the trip or knowledge somebody had going into a trip. In any case there is also just a bit of luck that goes into traveling in the off season, because the peak season is usually the peak season for a reason. Peak seasons are usually when most people interested in visiting a destination have off from work and school, and when the weather is the most palatable. The most important things to look at when looking to travel off season are the weather and the crowds.

Palm trees in the snow!

Weather

One of the big reasons that we go to the places we do when we do is to escape the weather we are experiencing at home. People travel more often in the summer because the probability is that you will have sunnier days than any other time of the year, meaning that you won’t have to waste any days of your trip inside because the weather is too bad. However, we all know somebody who just couldn’t enjoy the trip they went on because the weather was unbearably hot or rainy. The trick then is to look at destinations that don’t necessarily hinge on good weather, something that is usually true for traveling to cities or relatively temperate places.

Traveling during the off season can save you money and give you an entirely different experience from most tourists if you can put up with the weather not being perfect. The best way to do this is to check what the weather looks like typically in the off peak months and see if you can hack it. You should also plan for a few sites or activities that aren’t necessarily weather specific that you can fallback on if you get a particularly “weather-filled” day. One thing to keep in mind when dealing with the weather out of tourist season is to check if places have a stormy or monsoon season, because travel and many attractions may not be operating fully in certain regions if they experience severe weather regularly.
travel

Some destinations are simply seasonal destinations, people go to them during a certain time of year for a festival, for the skiing, the beaches, animal populations, etc. These things can’t be helped and if they are the sole reason that a destination is calling you then you should probably look to go during their big season or at least close to it. Remember though that many of these places still have plenty to see and do that you might not know about during their off season.

The crowds

Crowds

People from the same areas seem to always be on similar schedules and also tend to have similar ideas for destinations. It seems that during the month of August all of Europe is on vacation while the rest of the world flocks there. However, holidays and school schedules also play a role in when everybody seems to be traveling and so going somewhere outside of these times during the off season means that you get to miss the bulk of the crowds. Off season crowds are usually smaller which means more intimate tours and sight seeing experiences as well as fewer people competing for reservations and lodging spots.

Off season travel means that you will usually find deals on the activities in the area and on things like hotels and B&Bs. You might even end up finding that your 12 room mixed dorm at the hostel turns into your very own private room during the off season. On the downside however, because of the lack of people many activities may not be operating at full throttle or even at all. If you are planning to do some real touristy stuff make sure to check that they don’t close down for a certain time of the year.

If you have ever lived in a seasonal town then you know that tourists can get old pretty quickly. They are fun that first month of the season maybe, but things quickly blur into you not being able to move around the town as easily as you used to. Sure they are bringing in money and its probably great for the town, but you get personally inconvenienced so they aren’t gonna be your best friend. Traveling in the off season means that you are one of very few non-locals in the town at any given time. This means you get to meet far more locals and see how places actually operate on a slightly less touristy level.

There are a whole bunch of reasons to travel in the off season, and if you plan well off season travel can be cheaper and more fulfilling than traveling during the peak season. You can do a whole lot of research online about when the best time for you to travel some place is, but the easiest way to figure it out is to always ask a local. Asking, “I’m looking to go to X specifically for Y, when should I visit?” will hopefully get you an answer along with other things you can do during that season. If you are short on cash but long on destinations on your “to-go” list then try going in a time you hadn’t thought of. You may just see a side of a place you didn’t know existed.