You know it's carnival time in Cologne when odd things start to happen. From the moment the mayor hands power to a trio consisting of a prince, a peasant and a maiden, this cathedral city in North Rhine-Westphalia is turned on its head. In the week before Ash Wednesday you'll have Kölle alaaf ringing in your ears and wonder if people have taken leave of their senses.
Carnival in Cologne begins at 11 minutes past 11 on 11 November and finishes on Ash Wednesday, just as elsewhere. But that's where the similarities end. As everyone can see, especially in the final week when the street carnival has the city firmly in its grip, Cologne carnival is in a league of its own. The street carnival begins at 11.11am on Women's Day, the Thursday before Ash Wednesday. Offices and businesses close, with hordes of people streaming into the old quarter and Südstadt from the early morning onwards. All day long it's customary for 'mad' women to cut off men's ties. Carnival Saturday is the day of the first processions through Cologne's districts. The evening then brings the ghost parade (first introduced in 1991) and lavish costume balls and ceremonies in the city's halls. But the official highpoint of Cologne carnival is the Rose Monday procession – the excitement overflows and even the most straight-laced of locals get caught up in the spirit.