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It is a long carnival weekend in Germany and most cities, towns and even villages of NRW are busy with carnival processions.
It is definitelly one of the things to not miss if you are here. Or if you have a trip to the West part of Germany to match with at least a day specially dedicated to the carnival.
After five years of attending carnivals I would like to share a few tips that will help you to get out the most of the carneval and not fall into its traps in case its the first time for you.
1. Pick big cities such Cologne or Düsseldorf if you want the most of it and can easily tolarete walking long distance, being in big crowd and multiple drunk people around you.
2. Pick small towns if you have only half and hour or one hour, if you freak in being pushed in the crowd or you are with children and do not want to risk to lose them in a big crowd or getting too tired.
3. How to know where to come to not miss the so called carnival train? During the carnival weekend you will see here and there people dressed in different costumes. But the heart of the carnival is a specific procession, normally consisting of a row of slowly moving trucks or tractors being followed by themed teams.
The Zug goes along the specific path, from one street to another. I would advice to google the keywords City Karnevalszug Year cause even really small towns normally post it on the internet on what day exactly, which streets the procession will pass, and when it starts and ends.
If you do not like drinking that much and you find it too boring and on some years too cold to be in the street for the whole day, you can calculate quite well where the procession will be at the specific time. Look at the map, how long is the path. Devide the hours planned by the number of km. Then see how far from starting point you want to arrive and calculate how long it will take them to come to your desired place.
It does work. Last year it was very precise, this year I had to wait only half an hour.
4. Come dressed. When everybody is dressed in costumes, you being the only one in the crowd not dressed feels like coming naked to the office. You do not have to spend a fortune or months preparing. Just draw something on your face or put a fancy hat or first cheap thing you come across in the shop. Carnival costumes are being sold in each shop a few months before so its easy to get something.
5. If your costume is not standing out, which is really difficult, you will see people really well prepared, wave your hands more, find out what words you need to shout when greeting the procession (in each city different, but in many Helau works), make eye contact. Try to stand where there is less crowd. Do not worry, they throw sweets not only where its crowded.
6. Take light but rather big shopping totes with you to collect and carry all you will get. If you come without bags you will regret the rest of your life!
7. Dress the kids too. Let them stand in the first row from the street and they will get full bags.
8. If you are coming by the car, in a big city be prepared to walk a kilometer or two. When approaching the desired spot, look for a parking spot since 2 km left. And if you found where to park within 1 km to the Zug path, consider yourself very lucky. Count 5 euros per hour for parking.
9. Dress for colder weather as it is since you will get cold by standing for a long time in once place.
Even if I do not drink or at least I am lucky enough to immerse in the mood of the carnival without being drunk, I find carnival one of the best things of all in Germany. It just disconnects my mind, all problems (wait a moment, what problems?) stop being existing for that one day.
And this is one day a year where you can see Germans different. Happy, smiling, noisy, childish, funny and just happy.
Many of the costumes are mind blowing. It is a thing not to miss in Germany.