Dusseldorf Carnival actually takes place from November 11th until Ash Wednesday every winter – an exhausting prospect when you consider that this is one of the most effervescent parties in the whole of Germany.
In actual fact, the 11th November date – at eleven minutes past eleven, to be strictly accurate – is simply the time at which the carnival jester, Hoppeditz, announces the beginning of the Carnival at the Town Hall. After that, the carnival is mothballed until the Thursday immediately before Ash Wednesday when the traditional Altweiberfastnacht takes place. This is the occasion when the women of the city ‘storm’ the Town Hall, again at 11.11 am, to assert their authority over the men. Any man foolish enough to be wearing a tie for work that day is liable to have it cut off just below the knot. The rest of the day is devoted to a street carnival in the old town, the Altstadt.
Sunday also has its own street carnival, working its way along the main shopping street of the city, Königsallee, and the costumes now are becoming much more frequent, and very outrageous.
Monday is the occasion of the grandest of the processions, Rosenmontag, or Rose Monday, when the parade can be up to two and a half kilometres in length. The revellers will be on extravagantly decorated floats or on foot and there will be countless bands and other marchers. The atmosphere has been described as ‘German Venetian’ by one visitor. Each year, up to a million spectators – known as ‘fools’ – line the city streets, mostly shouting out the traditional ‘Helau’ and trying to catch the goodies thrown from the passing floats. The parade can take as long as five hours to pass by.
On Ash Wednesday, the Carnival’s final passions are spent in a ritual burning of an effigy of the jester, and everyone gets ready for the next year’s event.
Although the Carnival parades are the centre pieces of Dusseldorf Carnival, there are many other organised – and totally unorganised – activities taking place. The famous Wheel Beer Barrel Race, for example, first competed for in 1887, is a lot of fun – and a good excuse to drink substantial amounts of Altbier, the local brew! There are also concerts, masked balls and special happenings for children.
A more recent – but now incredibly popular – event is what the organisers refer to on the website as ‘The Homosexual Race’, Tuntenlauf, when the competitors have to race down the main street – in full costume, of course. Additionally, they have all kinds of obstacles to surmount, in various ways, before they can finish the course. It all sounds a little bit like Gay Carnival It’s a Knockout but it is hugely successful. Prizes are awarded at the Gay Ball later in the evening.
Although the Dusseldorf Carnival has been established for a long time – the first Rose Monday Parade, for example, was in 1825, it is during recent years that the event has really become popular with visitors to the town as well as with the local inhabitants.
Dusseldorf might not have the cultural history or the architecture of, say, Cologne – although it was the home of Kraftwerk so, for that reason alone deserves recognition. In a 2007 study, however, it was claimed to have the best quality of life in Germany and is the established centre of the country’s advertising and fashion industries. Both of these aspects make it a very ‘young’ city, and indeed much of the architecture reinforces that impression, although there are lovely parts of the old town close to the Rhine. There are, additionally, some fine bridges over the river, which itself offers very pleasant views of the city. The nightlife in Dusseldorf is vibrant and varied, and there is an exciting gay scene.
Transport links to Dusseldorf are first class, as befits a city at the heart of the German economy. The airport buildings are ultra-modern and over 1000 trains pass through the main station every day. Hotels and hostels are plentiful and cater for all kinds of travellers.
Dusseldorf Carnival is by no means one of the world’s most famous events. It is, however, one fantastic party in a colourful and exciting city. Check out the Carnival’s official website if you want more information.