Lonely Planet Writer

Cologne Carnival kicks off at 11:11 on 11 November

The Kölner Karneval kicks off the 2017/18 festival season this Saturday, 11 November at precisely 11:11am. This eccentricity perfectly sets the tone for what’s known as the ‘crazy’ or ‘fifth’ season in Cologne. Running since 1823, the celebration draws about 70,000 jeckes (festival revellers) from around the world.

Cologne Carnival kicks off this month. Image by Thomas Will/Getty Images

The official festival programme starts in the afternoon, but people begin to show up in the Heumarkt and Alter Markt wearing ridiculous costumes from around 9am to start the music and dancing. Formally, the celebrations end at 6pm but lots of unofficial festivities are carried on into the night in local pubs and bars.

Revellers enjoy the carnival. Image by Brigitte Merz / LOOK-foto/Getty Images

Don’t go too hard on day one though, this is very much a marathon and not a sprint, as the carnival is not over until Aschermittwoch (Ash Wednesday) on the 14 February 2018! This day marks the end and is traditionally celebrated with carnival ‘survivors’ enjoying a fish dinner and recouping from their hangovers. Other highlights throughout the three month programme include ‘Women’s Carnival Day’ on 8 February 2018 – when women go about their business in fancy dress before heading to an official street carnival at 11:11am – and ‘Rose Monday’ on 12 February 2018. Rose Monday is touted as the festival ‘climax’ and involves a huge, vibrant parade that draws more than one million spectators in fancy dress!

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As you might imagine, having been around for more than 190 years, the carnival has a history as colourful as its festivities. It has evolved from religious beginnings to be a very inclusive and varied event. The slogan of the festival today is ‘Jede Jeck es anders’, meaning ‘every fool is different’, something that is honoured year round in Cologne, not just during festival season.

This year, the 11:11am beginning on 11 November will be marked with ‘glitter rain’ – fabulous.