I’ve been meaning to write this up for a while and now I’m so past due on it that anything I write will be mostly irrelevant, but it’s an important bit of local culture so we’ll do a three-parter to give it the proper treatment.
Welcome to Karneval.
There is a special time once a year when the good people of Germany throw off their woes, drop the angst and partake in the debaucherous season known as Karneval. The epicenter of Karneval culture is Köln, about a half hour train ride from Bonn. At first blush this festive time appears to involve:
- Some sort of detailed pageantry.
- Spending a lot of time picking out a costume.
- Gathering with friends in said costume.
- Drinking until you pass out or pee your pants.
I really have no right to talk about Karneval since I skipped out of the most important weekend for a trip to Paris. But that did not stop me from procuring my very own Karneval costume, which actually seems to be the most worthwhile part of Karneval.
Just like Americans, Germans love giant box stores and on the outskirts of many major metropolitan areas, you can find a small gathering of huge stores warehousing piles of whatever you need bought in bulk and sold cheap. Since Köln is the home of Karneval, one of these box stores is a giant Karneval costume warehouse. I believe it only comes to life in the run-up to the season and sits dormant the rest of the year – much like those weird inflatable Halloween costume stores that pop up around October.
Early on I had decided that I would create my Karneval costume from things I had at home. I entertained the thought of dressing up as Spermüll Man with bits of clothing gathered from quarterly curbside trash piles.
But one day on my way to Ikea I was pulled by tractor beams into the Karneval warehouse. Loud Karneval music blared from the speakers as crowds of people pushed through looking for the ideal costume.
The Karneval music is its own brand of Scottish-sounding highlander choruses best boisterously sung by drunk folk. Or German interpretations of musical styles from around the world (there’s one song about how the boys of Köln kiss just as good as the guys in Hollywood to a weird almost tropicalia beat). It’s all disorienting. A disproportionate emphasis on furry costumes that can be worn outside during cool temperatures makes for high temperature inside the warehouse that remain just under ball-sweat level.
I looked through the racks of costumes unable to reach personal consensus. I knew it had to be something of the furry variety. And cheap, since I’d only be able to wear it one night. But I didn’t want to be completely unoriginal.
As I meandered through the aisles with a bunny costume draped over one arm I felt voyeuristic as I watched couples debate the merits of different outfits. Strong opinions tested the resolve of the most dedicated couples as the debate raged between cow or dog costumes.
The surprising thing was that prices did not seem related to quality of the stitch. Overall, everything seemed overpriced, but that didn’t seem to bother most.
After much soul searching and internal debate, I finally settled on an amalgamation of the most traditional Karneval costumes. I would transform myself into an indecisive rabbit who couldn’t decide between a pirate or cowboy costume.
That plus it seemed to be the cheapest option. Seriously, who wants to spend 80 Euros for a costume when you’ll likely end up waking up on a curb with soiled britches.