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Cologne is the center of all carnival activities

 

There are four seasons in a year: spring, summer, autumn and winter. However in the Cologne Region people celebrate a fifth season, the carnival. The Cologne Region without carnival festivities is absolutely unthinkable.

 

Bad Godesberg, nowadays a city-district of Bonn, is located in the outskirts of Cologne, approximately 55 minutes away from the famous Cathedral in Cologne. Therefore, Bad Godesberg’s indoor and outdoor carnival activities are quite similar to the Cologne carnival traditions, whereas Bad Godesberg's festivities are smaller at some degrees.

 

The origin of carnival

 

People have enjoyed celebrating since ancient times. Our forefathers already had many frisky feasts of eating and drinking, often to the displeasure of the clerical and local leaders. The Latin speaking clergy stopped these amusements with the order of fasting before Easter. Pulpit orators demanded: “carne vale!” [Farewell to meat]. A new idiom was borne: carnival.

 

In late mediaeval times, Venice masquerades, known as “Il carnevale di Venezia”, were popular. These masquerades were still held many centuries later, especially in the Cologne Region, which was first occupied by the Napoleonic troops and then taken over by the Prussians. The beginning of the 19th century was a time of hardship. Balls and masquerades were a way of forgetting the inequity of living conditions. These festivities were not only celebrated in so-called “aristocratic” circles, but also by middle-class people.

 

In 1823, people of Cologne carefully started to revive carnival traditions, always afraid not to upset Prussian authorities. They enacted rules for indoor festivities and, of course, for the street carnival. From now on, carnival festivities spread all over the Rhine region. The first carnival organisations were founded in Cologne in 1823, and many decades later, in 1872, also in the city of Bonn.

 

Carnival makes fun of militarism

 

The Rhine region was occupied for many centuries. During the times of Napoleon, it was a part of the French Empire. Afterwards, this region was usurped by Prussia. People also felt the pressure of militarism. They reacted to this militarism by making fun of it: They gave military names to the carnival associations and created fantasy uniforms to recall on the period before the occupation. Their military ceremonies were a provocation to the Prussian authorities and, later to the occupants of World War I and, ultimately, to the Nazi regime.

 

Carnival in Bad Godesberg

 

Today, Bad Godesberg is a district of the Federal City of Bonn. However, it was an autonomous township until 1969. People of Bad Godesberg still continue to organize their own carnival festivities, as they did for more than 100 years.

 

Since 1893, the Godesberg Gymnastic Club celebrated carnival sessions and balls. Since carnival festivities did not fit into the Nazi world view in 1937, the Nazi regime prohibited all carnival activities of gymnastic clubs. A group of encouraged people of the Godesberg Gymnastic Club founded an independent carnival organisation shortly after this prohibition as a result of this latest development and they named this carnival organisation the “Godesberg City Soldiers”. We understand our carnival organisation in a direct continuity of the first carnival steps of 1893.

 

The name of this carnival organisation, the “Godesberg City Soldiers”, as well as of many others in the Cologne region recollects the times of townsmen militia in the 17th and 18th century. According to these times, the “Godesberg City Soldiers” wear uniforms similar to those of the former Electorate of Cologne in the colours red, green and white. The three-corned hats, the swords or the wooden rifles with flowers in the gun barrel are typical. All members of the carnival organisation are officers of military high ranks. Officers decorate their uniforms every year with new carnival medals.

 

Every carnival season starts on November 11th at 11:11 a.m. and ends on Ash Wednesday, when the period of fasting prior to Easter begins. The number “eleven” has carnival symbolism. Carnival anniversaries are counted in steps of eleven years, even of 111 years, and carnival festivities are directed by “The Council of the Eleven”.

 

Cologne is the center of all carnival activities in our region, where far more than hundred carnival organisations established themselves in the last 180 years. The Cologne carnival organisations enthrone every session a triumvirate called Prince, Virgin and Peasant as their carnival leaders. In Bonn and in Bad Godesberg, we enthrone a Prince and a Princess Carnival, who is called Bonna in Bonn and Godesia in Bad Godesberg.

 

Godesberg City Soldiers

 

We have approximately twenty carnival organisations organizing various carnival activities in Bad Godesberg during the carnival season. One of them is the “Godesberg City Soldiers”, which is ranked among the larger organisations. The “Godesberg City Soldiers” include about 130 so-called active members and an another 200 so-called non-active members.

 

The active members of the “Godesberg City Soldiers” wear the above mentioned uniforms. We distinguish several “army corps”, e.g. the “children’s corps” (the youngest child is about three years old), the “armed forces”, the “cavalry”, the “landsturm”, the “senate”, the “great council”, the “veterans”, and the “marching band”. Lansquenet dances of the men, can-can, modern dances of the girls, special dances of the children, and parades of the horsemen are typical for the organisation and are preformed many times during the season. The non-active members and all members of the “great council” are significant financial sponsors of the organisation. The current president of the “Bad Godesberg City Soldiers” organisation is Dieter Nussbaum.

 

Even though the carnival season starts in November, the real “hot” phase of the season always begins shortly after New Years Eve and ends, as above mentioned, on Ash Wednesday, which will be March, 1st  in 2017.

 

The "Godesberg City Soldiers" start this "hot" phase by bestowing the active members of the organisation with the carnival medal of the season. The society organizes various indoor festivities such as events with Cologne carnival artists, the "Great Carnival Pomp Meeting" with more than 600 guests (January, 29th), the "Men's Meeting" with about 400 guests (February, 12th), where only men are admitted, and the "Girls' Meeting" with about 600 female guests (February, 14th). We prepare a special costume party for the children (February, 11th).

 

The street carnival marks the beginning of the so called “crazy days” at the end of the carnival season. Thursday before Ash Wednesday (February, 23rd) is the so-called Women’s Carnival Day, where costumed people can be seen all over the city. Men should pay attention to their ties, as costumed women cut off these ties and pin them to their costumes, similar to when Native Americans (known as Indians) did it with the scalps of their enemies. The “City Soldiers” and their marching band parade in the streets and accompany the Prince and the Princess to carnival feasts at retirement homes or at women’s parties. At the same time, the “Children’s Corps” accompanies the Children Prince and the Children Princess to various carnival events in hospitals and retirement homes.

 

The highlight of the street carnival kicks off on Carnival Sunday (February, 26th), when all organisations besiege the Bad Godesberg City Hall. After having occupied the city and town halls, they seize the power of the city. A huge street parade, which follows, of all organisations crowns the events of Carnival Sunday. More than 2,000 participants, 100 carnival wagons, 100 horsemen, and 30 bands passing march through the streets of Bad Godesberg. Tons of sweets, candy, chocolate bars, and thousands of flowers are distributed to more than 25,000 spectators.

 

On Rose Monday (February, 27th), there are only smaller carnival events taking place in Bad Godesberg. However, Rose Monday is the climax of the street carnival in Bonn and, especially, in Cologne with more than one million spectators among the members of Bad Godesberg’s societies.

 

Carnival always ends on Ash Wednesday. Traditionally, fish dishes are served in pubs and restaurants. All societies start to prepare for the next carnival season shortly after.

 

Klaus Schliebe

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