Welcome to Cologne! The carnival days are definitely “exceptional days” in Cologne. Therefore these 48 hours in Cologne guide doesn’t necessarily represent an average day in my hometown Cologne.
Although the residents of Cologne are known as pretty „jeck“ (which means „crazy“ in the local dialect „Kölsch“) in comparison to people of other big cities in Germany.
Kolner Karneval – Kölle Alaaf!
The ‘fifth season’, or carnival season, officially starts every year at 11.11 AM on the 11th of the 11th month November, but it is between Fat Thursday (Weiberfastnacht) and Ash Wednesday (Aschermittwoch) that the main celebrations take place and reach their zenith (in 2017: 23rd February – 28th February).
During these days citizens and tourists flock to the streets and squares to participate in the parades and witness the performances and events held all around the city, and pubs and clubs are filled to the brim.
Cologne echoes with ‘Kölle Alaaf!’, the typical greeting during this festivity, which in Kölsch, the local dialect, means ‘Cologne above all!’. Kölsch is not only spoken, but also drunk! Indeed, kölsch is also the name of the beer crafted in the city. Carnival madness stops only on Wednesday, when Lent starts.
Day 1: 09:00 – 13:00
In order to be well prepared for a long day and a lot of alcohol it’s advisable to get a solid basis in form of an extensive breakfast.
It’s best to get breakfast at Cafecafe in the center of Cologne or at their other branch in Ehrenfeld. The basic breakfast includes a large mixed bread basket next to a tray full of sweet spreads. Furthermore you can order cold cuts, but also bagels, foccacias and vitamin rich smoothies.
If you are there on the legendary Thursday, Weiberfastnacht, you should visit the Kulturdeck open air party at the Aachen Weiher. From 11: 11h the party will start and you’ll probably going to hear the sound, less traditional carnivals sounds but more techno and electronic. This is not yet quite so untraditional. After all the world-famous Techno-Label Kompakt comes from Cologne.
By now you should be full enough to go on an extensive shopping tour. The Belgian Quarter where you are located (as some street names already tell) is full of small boutiques and shops, such as my favorite store, the Shee. The opposite design agency opened this shop with unusual illustrations and residential objects and you can browse there for hours. But don’t waste too much time here since there are lots of other places to explore in Cologne.
Continue a few meters to my favorite artisan Bakery Zimmermann where you should take a look, even if you are not hungry.
Traditionally, the „Muzemandeln“ (small fried donuts in the shape of almons) and so called Berliners (a type of doughnut usually filled with jam) during carnival. This bakery has been baking for almost 150 years without additives and only with traditional recipes. Make sure to grab a famous „Schwarzbrot“ to take back home as Zimmermann is famous for this black bread which they sell all over the world.
Day 1: 14:00 – 19:00
If you haven’t already bought a costume at Deiters or the other carnival shops, it is worth taking a look at the second hand shop Vintage and Rags.
From the close station Friesenplatz you can take the metro lines 3 or 4 to reach another of Cologne vibrant areas Ehrenfeld. Get off at “Venloer Str./Gürtel” and you are in one of the most lively areas of Cologne with many Turkish shops and kebab spots. No surprise that you find one of the most popular spot at the snack bar Kebapland where you can have lunch.
Now you need something sweet to finish? Go to Die Eisdielerin to grab either one of her (dairy-free) ice-creams and sorbets or her waffle creations which can be both sweet or savory (if you haven’t had lunch yet).
If you more in the mood of having a piece of coffee just stop at cosy Cafe Rotkelchen and drink a hot cup of coffee or espresso thats being made with beans from one of the oldest coffee roasters of Cologne Shamong Kaffeeröster which is just a few meters away. It can’t get more local!
It is no secret that a lot of (drunk) people get closer to carnival. If you want to be prepared for any occasion you should pay french and charming Diana from Le pop lingerie a visit. Spotter Rabea enjoys the always relaxed and familiar atmosphere in here.
Day 1: 19:00 – ???
Day 2: 09:00 – 13:00
Carnival would not be what it is if you do not have a proper hangover. You can fight it with long sleep and a coffee. You’ll get a freshly roasted one if you step by at Sina and Micki from the Coffee Gang. There are delicious sandwiches, which can be grilled. And they have Mickis legendary NY Cheesecake… Don’t miss it!
If the hunger is still not fully satisfied and you are after a late breakfast or early lunch you are helped with a visit at Habibi. The small Lebanese Deli is mostly packed, as you get fresh homemade Falafel here in the student district. For 1.90 € it is a cheap and filling option for the party crowd and students of the Zülpicher Straße. Each visit at Habibi is crowned with a little hot glas of cinnamon tea, which is obligatory free.
If your body needs more electrolytes because of the long night and extensive celebration, and if you are hungry for a hearty lunch, get a burger at Freddy Schilling. The meat comes from a Farmers’ collective and is 100% organic and really juicy. For vegetarians every burger can be made with a homemade vegetable patty made out of white beans, chick peas, beetroots, mushrooms, onions and tempura.
Day 2: 14:00 – 19:00
Just next to Habibi there is a cute little shop called Papelito. I’ll find myself browsing through the various cards and well-chosen stationary ware whenever I’m looking for a little present for friends or myself. As Rabea knows: you can browse through this little shop for hours but make sure to be outside on time so you can explore Cologne further.
Get some fresh air by doing a little walk through Judiths favorite park, the Volksgarten that leads you to anther part of Cologne, the „Südstadt“, the area where I’ve spent my childhood at.
Are you in the mood for your next coffee already? Don’t worry because Cologne luckily has a few good coffee roasters. One of them, Ernst Kaffeerösterei is a slow coffee brew bar which is specialized on light roasted fair traded beans from the best cultivation areas in the world. Due to the big windows the place is bright, friendly and welcoming. Grab a cup of coffee with the desired amount of milk and sit down at the large window front to enjoy the (colorful costumed) people on the Bonner Straße.
Walk down the Bonner Straße until you reach the Chlodwigplatz and the „Severintorburg“ You are in the midst of the carnival happenings. If you are lucky, you can already familiarize yourself with the traditional carnival songs and warm up. At one of the oldest breweries in town at Früh em veedel you can convert your acquired singing knowledge directly into action.
If it is no the dialect “Kölsch” it can be the beer which has the same name. A locals saying is that “Kölsch” is the only language you can drink. If you haven’t had alcohol yet you should be quick to be on the same level as the ones’ that started with „Frühshoppen“ a popular tradition especially during carnival where you meet with others in a pub to eat and start to drink in the morning. Try the traditional dish „Halve Hahn“ or „Himmel und Äd“ if you want to try some local specialities.
Day 2: 19:00 – ???
The Rhine River is really nearby. Have a little walk along the modern area of the Rheinauhafen and enjoy the interesting mix of modern architecture and old warehouses. During the afternoon/evening hours you won’t have too many people walking here. However on Carnival the city is packed anyways so you probably got already used to be around many people on the street.
Time for dinner and some italian soul food at the favorite Italian of Julia and me, Massimo, or some Tapas at Meister Gerhard. In both venues you can enjoy some fresh cooked dishes in a cosy environment. If you are mood for carnival you should simply stay outside.
Go with the flow of carnival and walk up and down the streets of a veedel (neighborhood) Sing, dance, sway to the music with strangers and your new friends and cheer with bottled beer from the various Büdchen around. You will quickly notice what makes the Cologne residents so extraordinary. It is not about carnival only.