Monday, March 1, 2010

Kölle alaaf!

[ up Cologne! ]

Emblazoned on flags and souveniers around the city, along with the sybolic crest with 11 flames, "Kölle alaaf" roughly translates to up Cologne! and is in Kölsch accent of German and a cheer for the celebrations of Karneval.

After our tour around the city seeing many of the sites [ many unfortunately closed due to the huge amounts of people flooding into the city streets ] we were ready to join the festivities. Bags in tow, we all had costume gear and found a local C&A department store to utilize the dressing rooms to change our attire. I would say that on any other day, seeing young men walk out of a dressing room with blonde wigs and tights into a department store would probably catch a few stares, but being Karneval, paying homage and cross dressing as a pop singer that has at least one song playing at every European club/bar/Erasmus party without fail was seemingly normal.

The below zero winds cutting through my tights was worth it for candid photos with strangers and passerby's screaming "Lady Gaga!" deeming our costume idea a success. The festivities continued throughout the afternoon, bands playing in the streets with swarms of people in costumes dancing around. Bakeries were stacked with mountains of Berliner doughnuts [ the doughnut that made Kennedy's speech infamous, and also a related pastry to the beloved Polish icon in Detroit - the Pączki - but I think it goes without question which I am most definitely partial to.] We were all having a great time flipping our hair to the beats of bass drums and tubas marching through the streets - lady gaga's hips swinging, half eaten Berliner in hand, raspberry jelly getting in my hair.

There was not one street that wasn't full of people. Bleachers were lined in the streets for parades, kiosk doors were swinging open for people coming out with arm-loads of Kölsch cans, crowds of people cheering around big bands, flares and fireworks lighting up the scenes. Definitely not dressed for the weather - no poker face there - I was cold, but every few minutes one could hop into another bar lining the streets - oftentimes kostenlos Eintritt - free! - to join another party with the Dj's interchanging between popular dance beats, and traditional German folk music around the clock.

We were all overzealous and starting dancing the night away when it was dark, no later than 7, and by the time it was midnight - we were already kaputt. No where else to go - the plan was to stop for a Döner at a local Turkish imbiss - wedge into a booth side by side with strangers with tall hats, glittering outfits and lots of bright colors, often times very eager to talk to their neighbors, rosy cheeked, even if it wasn't necessarily coherent.

The hours into the morning waned on - it's cold , JUST DANCE! - and the dancing continued - now including periodic human trains streaming through the trendy underground club lined with stone arches. The entire setting was surreal. Freezing temperatures, snow falling, everyone in costumes, bars and clubs with open doors, the Cathedral in the background of the moonlit sky - pulling a 27 hour day might have been a marathon, but in the end, it was worth it. Was Cologne a pretty sight? maybe in the background, but one can only imagine what the streets looked like with a million people visiting to join the party. What is even more amazing is that this was Saturday. Monday, Rosenmontag, was the most famous day of the Karneval celebrations, so the real parties had only just begun!

Roughly 5 A.M.: proving that we weren't the only ones pulling a vagabond excursion to Cologne just for a one day trip - hundreds of people lined the train station - some even with sleeping bags, waiting for 6 A.M. when Regional trains began trucking dizzy, defrosting tourists back home.

[ This little elf almost made it. He seemed to have gotten some Burger King to make it through, but found the picnic spot to be rather comfy for a nap as well. ]

Unlike our little elf friend there, we could consider ourselves survivors. The adventure was exhausting. I was severely under-dressed running around in the snow in tights far too long. It is said though that the Germans are always serious and to the point, but when it is time to cut loose and throw a party, they know how to have fun. This was definitely true in Cologne. The atmosphere was loud, obnoxious, and definitely worth the experience once in my life. The train ride home had me bundled in my jacket, scarf, gloves and multiple sweaters all the hours home - I needed to defrost - It was Sunday morning, and the next morning I started my Praktikum internship experience ... I got home and slept until the next morning.

Karneval in Köln

[ Carnival in Cologne ]

It would be nice if I could finally get my posts on the blog in order and organized once more, but sometimes things are just a bit chaotic and a bit mixed-up.

I think the same goes for Karneval, Germany's answer to Mardi Gras, and this serves as an appropriate transition to discuss the event. Taking place in virtually all predominantly Catholic cities in Germany [ or anywhere that enjoys a big party ], Karneval is most famous for taking place in Cologne. I briefly mentioned the celebrations and the preparations for the festival during my initial posts about Cologne when I was there in January, and when writing then, I really had no intentions of going back to Cologne, even if it was to join one of Europe's largest parties.

Sometimes however, things are a bit spontaneous, and a few friends and I decided to do what we did in Hamburg - i.e. skip the hassle of booking and paying for a Hostel, and pull the 24 hour trip. We found the Schöneswochenende ticket - A pass that allows 5 people within a certain zone to travel for 35 Euros all together as a group. For our hin-und-zurück, there and back, rendezvous we all spent less than 20 Euros - a steal when normal trains to Cologne would set us back easily 100 Euros.

Similar to my trip to Oktoberfest, I didn't have any set plans or expectations going to one of the largest public events in Germany [ let alone Europe! ]. I did know that over 1 million people would visit Cologne within the weekend, coming verkleidet in wigs and outlandish costumes, oftentimes genderbending, swilling Kölsch beer, and hearing the song "Viva Colonia" played at every bar and club throughout the city the entire festival.

Once we arrived in Cologne we were still "normal" dressed in our pedestrian clothes amongst crowds of people grouped together as animals, glitter and feather-boas, or even just flowing blond locks to go along with their handlebar mustaches. We had several hours to still send in the city, and first took a nice tour around checking out the Dom and made a trip over to the Schokolademuseum [which was unfortunately closed] before we dressed up to join in the million person party. The atmosphere was rowdy and loud, but it goes without comparison to see so many people in crazy costumes with the Cologne Cathedral and the Rhine river looming in the background of the sights.