The fifth season: Bonn celebrates Carnival
Mark your calendars for our Carnival highlights 2017: Women’s Carnival Day will be celebrated on Thursday, 23 February. The traditional Storming of the Old Town Hall will take place on Carnival Sunday, 26 February. Watch our colorful parade on Rose Monday on 27 February 2017. The Carnival season in the Rhineland ends on Ash Wednesday (1 March).
Those among you who have lived in Bonn for more than a year, know: the Rhineland has not only the usual four, but at least five seasons! And for many people the fifth season, Carnival, is the best one.
The Carnival season begins on the eleventh of November at eleven hours and eleven minutes with Carnival balls and parties and a lot of other festivities. The climax will be reached between Women’s Carnival ("Weiberfastnacht" - Thursday preceding Shrove Monday/Rose Monday) and Ash Wednesday, when all of the Rhineland tumbles into a state of complete craziness.
Parties and parades take place in all city districts, the largest and most beautiful of all parades being of course our central Bonn Rose Monday Parade, attracting ‘jesters’ and Carnival lovers of all ages and backgrounds.
One day before, on Carnival Sunday, a Carnival spectacle of a special nature takes place: Bonn’s "Chief Jesters”, Prince Carnival and his consort Bonna, attempt every year to conquer the Old Town Hall. The Mayor organizes its defense, but it is no secret that he never succeeded to this day. In the end, he has to surrender to the Carnival Royalties and hand over symbolically the key to the Old Town Hall and the reign over the city until Ash Wednesday.
Beuel, the district on the right bank of the Rhine, boasts a particular Carnival event: the traditional ‘Weiberfastnacht’ (Women’s Carnival) was first celebrated here over 180 years ago - offspring of an early feminist movement. The washer-women of Beuel stood up against the patriarchate and its exploitation of women. They founded the first Ladies’ Carnival Committee and decided to come together henceforth once a year - on the Thursday prior to Carnival - to rebel against their husbands.
Consequently, the supreme representative of the Beuel women bears the title ‘Washer-Women Princess’ to this day. She leads the storming of the Beuel Town Hall and is always the first one to seize power from the men for one day. By the way: gentlemen are well-advised not to wear their best tie on that day as the ladies prey upon this fashion accessory with scissors in hand - a symbol of disempowerment as it were.
What are the origins of our Carnival?
In olden times, towards the end of winter, the ancient Teutons put on masks and disguises and made a lot of noise to chase away the evil spirits. Since early Christianity, people have used the last occasion before meagre Lent to party and to eat to their hearts’ content. The Rhenish word ’Fastelovend’ stems possibly from the Middle High German word ‘vastnaht’ which means the ‘eve of Lent’. Another possible origin is ‘faseln’ which means: ‘to talk rubbish’ or ‘to be silly’.
The number 11 (German: ‘elf’) has been the symbol of Carnival since the Middle Ages. 11 is one more than the Ten Commandments and one less than the number of Jesus’ disciples, so it nullifies the order of Christian mythology. Carnival was the last opportunity to party and to enjoy life before the strict rules of Christian Lent called people to repent and to contemplate. Carnival is organized by ‘Elferräte’, Councils of Eleven. Events start 11 minutes past the hour. But Eleven - E L F - also ridiculed the French conquerors of the Rhineland after the French Revolution, modifying slightly the well-known slogan into ‘Egalité, Liberté, Fraternité’, from which a Major General Baron von Czettritz derived the first Carnival motto in 1827: ‘Like brothers, like caps’. This is also origin of the colorful historical uniforms of the Carnival organizations, a satire on the conduct of the occupation troops. The Carnival folks (‘Jecke’) take over with military splendor.
The characteristic traditions of organized Carnival developed in the early 19th century on the west bank of the Rhine during the French occupation: speeches were held from inside an upturned barrel, ‘Büttenreden’, as a humorous disguise of political expression. And the blue-white-red Carnival uniforms mock the occupation forces. Throwing sweets during parades was to imitate rulers throwing coins to the masses.
If you have never seen this before don’t miss the chance this year to join in on the Carnival action! Allow yourself to be carried away by the atmosphere of cheerfulness and fun and to be part of the merry craze of the ‘mad days’ of Rhenish Carnival.
So let’s all join in the carnival cheers, three times ‘Bonn Alaaf!’