HELAU AND ALAAF – CARNIVAL TRADITION IN GERMANY
This upcoming Thursday, certain cities in Germany, including my hometown Dusseldorf, are going to be crowded with thousands of people – adults as well as children – dressed up in costumes. Welcome to the yearly tradition of Carnival. For those of you who have never heard of this festivity before, I would describe it as a mixture of Halloween (minus the scary costumes) plus Mardi Gras.
Due to the fact that I grew up in a so-called Carnival central city, I basically was born into the tradition. Today I can gladly say that I don’t miss it one bit, but back when I was living in Europe I did feel obligated to participate. So what does Carnival consist of?
This time of the year, which is also named the 5th season, actually starts in November on 11-11 at 11:11 a.m., but the peak of the tradition happens around late February/ beginning of March on a Thursday. That day called “Altweiber” (old women), it is common at work for women to cut off the men’s ties with scissors and then celebrate on the streets and at bars till late at night.
The highlight of the Carnival celebration is held on Monday with the Rose Monday parades, which are very popular in the cities of Dusseldorf, Cologne, and Mainz. The 5th season usually ends that following Wednesday, called Ash Wednesday.
To sum it up, Carnival is one of the biggest events celebrated in Germany with parades, costume balls, and street parties. There are two popular cries that you would be hearing a lot during this time: Helau in Dusseldorf and Mainz, and Alaaf in Cologne, Bonn, and Aachen.
I personally enjoyed this celebration more when I was a little kid in kindergarten and elementary school. I mean, what kid doesn’t like to dress up. My favorite costume of all time used to be a cat. Cats were my favorite animal back then, so luckily for my parents they could recycle my costume every year and didn’t have to get a new one.
Being an adult, I never found it too appealing to put on a costume and get drunk on the streets, even though I participated a couple times.
What changed my perception a little bit was when I actually joined a show dance group that performed during masquerade balls. I received this opportunity when I was living with my sister in a very small town in the mountains.
A friend of a friend happened to be one of the dancers, and since I loved dancing and had been doing it throughout my entire life, I saw the chance to become part of the group through that connection since they were in need of an additional performer.
For two years I was a member of this group. And what can I say, I loved it. I loved rehearsing for the show, performing on stage, and participating in tournaments. But I still wasn’t too fond about everything else that included Carnival.
Once it was clear that I would be moving to the United Stands, I obviously had to end my time with this group. It was a fun two years, but I am not missing it much nowadays. But for everyone else who is a great fan of Carnival, have fun out there these next couple of days!
Anne-Kathrin Schulte, is a contributor for CaliforniaGermans.com. She writes on her personal experience of the American Dream as well as on working as an au pair in CA. She was born and grew up in Düsseldorf, Germany, where she completed her degree as a state-approved Kindergarten teacher. After her au pair engagement in the US and a quick return to Germany she decided to attend university in California and moved back to the United States. She has been living in Southern California since 2011.
If you would like to contact Anne-Kathrin, please send an email to californiagermans(at)gmail.com and place her name in the subject line.