The excitement is building as Germany's carnival hotspots prepare for what locals call the 'fifth season of the year'. Read on to find out where you can experience the biggest and best parades and carnival celebrations.
All the way from Cologne to Constance! Germany's carnival season, which officially began on 11 November at 11.11am, is now in full swing and is nearing its big finale with Women's Day, Rose Monday and Ash Wednesday. Millions of people join in the revelry in the run-up to Lent, with many of them donning brightly coloured and sometimes scary costumes. Though each region has its own name for the carnival period – karneval, fastnacht, fasnet, fasching and fastelovend – they all welcome visitors young and old to join the celebrations.
The homeland of the German carnival
The most popular place to experience carnival-time in Germany is in the Rhineland cities of Cologne, Düsseldorf and Mainz in the west of Germany. Traditionally the street carnivals here begin in the early hours of Women's Day (23 February in 2017), with celebrations continuing well into the night, both on the streets and in the bars. The pinnacle of the Rhineland carnival has to be the decorated floats, fancy-dress troupes, marching bands and horseriders that make up the Rose Monday carnival processions, which in 2017 will be held on 27 February. These parades stretch back for miles and miles, and the Cologne event is the biggest in Germany, attracting some 1.5 million people every year.
Carnival in northern Germany
Northern Germany's capital of carnival is the city of Braunschweig, where the festivities date back to the 13th century. The procession here generally starts on the last Sunday before Lent. Further north, Bremen offers an alternative carnival experience in the shape of Europe's largest samba carnival, which takes place this year on 17 and 18 February.
Celebrate in the south of Germany
Down in south-west Germany the main events of the Swabian-Alemannic fastnacht carnival generally begin on the last Thursday before Lent (23 February 2017). In the lakeside town of Constance, however, the merriment starts the night before with the Butzenlauf masked parade. Another Constance event not to be missed is the spectacular procession on the last Sunday before Lent (26 February). The town of Rottweil, meanwhile, is famous for its legendary Narrensprünge (Fools' Parades) that take place on Rose Monday and Shrove Tuesday (27 and 28 February).
Things get going a little earlier in the Bavarian capital of Munich, with fools and jesters parading their colourful costumes on 19 February this year. The celebrations will continue across the city until the final street festival from 26 to 28 February, culminating in the must-see Dance of the Market Women at the Viktualienmarkt on 28 February.