Me with 9 "Sons of Ghandi" in Salvador - with which I left each night again and again! :)

A lot of people ask me why I go to a crazy party called carnival. How much do you actually know about it? Do you know the Nubbelburning in Cologne? The Zulu King at Mardi Gras in Lousiana? The Sons of Ghandi in Salvador, Brazil? If not, here come some insights that might be new for you. 😉 Carnival is a big deal in several countries around the world – especially the Americas and several countries in Europe. The big celebrations are for the last days before lent, the fasting time before Easter. So for a last time the party still goes wild until Tuesday before Ashwednesday.


Hence the name “Mardi Gras” (“Fat Tuesday” in French) in the US where it is especially big in the Lousiana region and several traditions survived – like the black Zulu king,

Mardi Gras Zulu King 1975
Mardi Gras Zulu King 1975

a parade master of the Zulu Carnival Parade that is elected every year – Louis Armstrong was one of them as well e.g.! These traditional trucks of the parade might still throw coconuts, while a lot of the trucks throw plastic beads that people catch and collect – 6 Trillion of them are produced each year and it is an industry of it’s own! I caught some 250 when I was there (in Galveston, Texas) and they became a bit heavy around my neck. 😉 Rumor also has it that the girls do pull up not only their shirt to get some of them… 😉

Here you can see some typical costumes (include the King Cake which is mentioned below):

And here is a typical parade:

The traditional King Cake with a little figure inside
The traditional King Cake with a little figure inside

At the beginning of Carnival you bake the traditional and colorful “King Cake” with a little figure inside. The finder is supposed to sponsor the next party or has certain priviliges – depending on the region.
The city of New Orleans itself already has quite some flair with former French colonists and their outfits, Mississippi River Steam boats and colonia style buildings that contributes to the carnival – to fully experience, just go there! 😉


In Northrhine-Westphalia, Germany, you throw candy from the trucks instead.

Carnival Sweets thrown from the trucks
Carnival Sweets thrown from the trucks

There are a lot of parades in e.g. Cologne: by the schools, the city quarters and carnival groups. You often have around 80-90 groups in a procession lasting 4-5 hours. A very traditional symbol are the virgin, the peasant and the prince of carnival – all of which happen to be represented by men by the way (except in the kids’ parades)! They are suggested and provided by the carnival associations which pay the representation and candy costs often reaching 250.000€ – per person and per year! This does not include the time that they can not be at work for these 2-3 months but have to be representing at precarnival sessions.

traditional Virgin (Jungfrau), Peasant (Bauer) and Prince (Prinz) of Cologne - all represented by Men :)
traditional Virgin (Jungfrau), Peasant (Bauer) and Prince (Prinz) of Cologne – all represented by Men 🙂 (Pic rights)

They are the last ones in the big procession on Rose Monday, which is followed by “Fat Tuesday”, on which the “Nubbel” (local slang for “somebody”/ “whoever”) is burned at Midnight. This is a puppet the size of a small person that  has a funeral procession before it is found guilty of all the bad things that happened in the last year (economic crisis, soccer club lost, beer becoming more expensive (every year!)) and eventually condemned to death by burning. Most bars have their individual one and it can become a little scary when 15 of the bars do their processions and burning together – still a bit like a witch burning! The season officially starts though on the 11th of November at 11.11 am and people dress up and go out in the streets and behave pretty crazy. Women e.g. go into the city hall that day and cut all the ties of every male person  they can find! 🙂
In general you can say that it is pretty easy to get to know somebody during cologne carnival and even kissing happens easier – couples sometimes take a break from their relationship for this time so they can enjoy carnival fully! There is even a specific music style for carnival! 🙂 This was one of the new songs this year: (Pirate by Kasalla) And this a more traditional one: (“Viva Colonia”)


In the north of Brazil (not in Rio) you have a special Carnival Music as well – called “Axé” (pronounced Ashé) with one of it’s most known bands called “Chiclete com Banana” – Chewing Gum with Banana! 🙂 I participated in the one in Salvador – which is not just mainly based on Samba as in Rio that you always see in the media but on Axé and some other things: Here each truck has their own music (or even band) and you can buy tickets to either be in an area close to the truck separated by ropes that are carried along or some specific stands on the side. But since it is very difficult to check tickets all the time you get a shirt – called Abadá! You can of course just stay in the free areas in between – where the crowd is called “pipoca” (popcorn – for jumping freneticall up an down :)). One organisation / truck is of African decent and called “Filhos de Ghandi” – Sons of Ghandi.

Me leaving with 9 Filhos de Ghandi night after night in Salvador!
Me leaving with 9 Filhos de Ghandi night after night in Salvador!

They are the ones that supposingly introduced the tradition of “a bead for a kiss”. Since their “tickets” are actually full body tuniks that also include beads, they put the bead around a girl and kiss it. Afterwards she keeps the bead as a trophy (or as I found out returns it if she liked the kiss and deemed it enough of a trophy already ;)). And I guess I do not have to tell you about the carnival in Rio… 😉

Sambacarnival in Germany!

Of course the temperatures in each country are different – rather freezing in Germany and the US, warm sun in Brazil, but there is also still the Samba Carnival in Bremen which always takes place on week before the Cologne one – 2000 Samba players and 300-800.000 visitors as well! These bands can then often also be seen the week after in Cologne roaming and playing in the streets for free.

One of the Bremen Samba Carnival Bands
One of the Bremen Samba Carnival Bands

I could still go on for ages about different carnival traditions but just wanted to provide a little excerpt to give an idea – if you still have questions just let me know and I will be glad to answer them! How do you celebrate Carnival in your country? I did not get to the Latinamerican countries or Venice where you have the big mask balls (where the cologne carnival actually has it’s origins in!) but there is so much more to go! In any case – just enjoy it and see people often so different from what you usually know them. 😉 [The picture sources can be reached by clicking on them – mostly wikimedia creative commons and personal pictures.]

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