Carnival – why Düsseldorf is worth a visit

Düsseldorf has something to offer for everyone: There is at one hand the “Kö”, Düsseldorf’s shopping street par excellence with shops like “Prada” oder “Gucci”. Then there are the greener areas of Düsseldorf: the meadows on the Rhine, Kaiserswerth, a lovely suburb with lots of history and we even have a beach. But then there is also the “Altstadt” which translates into “old city” but does not especially refer to the old houses and churches and the town hall near the Rhine (even though there are quite a few gemstones to be found). The Altstadt is the party area of Düsseldorf. Several pedestrian streets lined with bars and clubs attract locals and tourists alike. I always get the feeling that at least every second German bachelor party is hold in Düsseldorf’s Altstadt. It’s not the place where I prefer to go out except for about 5 days a year: Carnival.

If you think of Brasil when you think Carnival, than add more clothes (because it’s usually freezing) and subtract Latin American dancing skills. Now here are nine things you should know about German street Carnival, if you haven’t been there before.

Christmas Tree dress (from 2009)

Christmas Tree dress (from 2009)

  • It’s loud: some streets play one song for the whole street, other places have their own sound system
  • It’s wild: Carnival is like “what happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas”. “Bützen” (kissing strangers) and “Schunkeln” (linking arms with your neighbours and then swaying left and right) are the sport of this long weekend. And if you do more than “Schunkeln” and “Bützen”, well, that’s how it usually goes. Some even say that even if you have a partner, that doesn’t matter on Carnival… but that is everyone’s sole decision.
  • It’s loads of alcohol: beer stalls everywhere. They usually sell Düsseldorf’s speciality “Altbier”, a dark beer that you need 2-3 glasses of before it starts to taste nice. And to be honest, I can’t stand the music without a glass or two…
  • It’s German traditional Carnival songs: I’m not from the Rhine region, so even I often don’t understand the dialect they are singing, but those are the good songs. Carnival seems to bring together the most horr
  • It’s people more or less fanciful dressed up: nearly everyone dresses up for Carnival. Imagine the usual like young girls as angels or devils or uniforms, but also groups of middle aged men all dressed up as mustard cubes, old women with fancy hats and a feather boa, I’ve even seen two fully decorated christmas trees three years ago.
  • It’s all ages: Kids go for Junior Carnival partys or the Kids Parade, Teens go for the drinking and showing off, people from their twenties onward just go for the fun and for older people it’s just tradition
  • Parade on Rosenmontag (Carnival actually back in 2004)

    They have marching bands, they select a prince and a princess for Carnival, if your grand-parents have been a member of a club, your parents will be too, you will be and be damn sure your child one day will be too.

  • It’s a long weekend: Carnival on the weekend before the start of the Catholic Lenten period, the six weeks directly before Easter. So it’s on a different date every year, 4th of February being the earliest date while 10th of March being the latest date. It starts on Thursday at 11.11am with “Altweiber” or “Weiberfastnacht”, “Women’s Carnival” when people roam the street from midmorning until late at night and many offices close down at midday for people to go partying (I partied, e.g. this year from about 2pm till around 10pm). Friday is rather a low day (intelligent Carnivalists take that day of, which I couldn’t this year because it was only the third day in my new job), while Saturday is, as every weekend, a party night. Sunday sees people flocking to the streets of the Altstadt and on the Kö all day. But it all comes to a climax on monday, the day of the big parade which for most people is a holiday and cools of on Tuesday to find its end on Ash Wednesday.
  • It’s plain fun!
  • And even though I’m usually not travelling in Carnival, it just fits here, because I tend to have people visiting every year. In 2009, my first carnival in Düsseldorf, as well as in 2010 it was friends from, last year we had a Finish and two Spanish friends over (so much fun seeing them sing along with the songs when they didn’t even understand a Word) and this year, after not having been in Düsseldorf for eight years, Andrea, a friend from England came over and I think we had loads of fun.

    So, if you feel like Carnival could be something for you: be creative and pack your fanciest dress and some warm clothes (layers have proven to be a could concept for surviving outside for quite sometime but also not getting a heat stroke when finally hitting the bars), check the dates, look for a place to stay as early as possible (there might be others who want to party as well…) and don’t be afraid. It kind of shocks me every year when I enter the Altstadt on Altweiber but after about half an hour I have found. You don’t speak German? Don’t worry. After some days here you’ll know the most important words and even if you meet some people who don’t speak your language (or English), they’ll just integrate you in all the partying, what ever.