‘No dancing, no singing’: Cologne cancels Carnival’s traditional first day

November 11th is always a special day in Cologne - it marks the start of the city’s famous Carnival season. But the city mayor has announced that the Jeken will have to sit out the celebrations this time around.

'No dancing, no singing': Cologne cancels Carnival's traditional first day
A photo from 2015 of revellers at the opening Karneval celebrations. Photo: DPA

Speaking at a press conference on Tuesday, city mayor Henriette Reker said that the corona pandemic had made it impossible to celebrate the traditional start of the new carnival season.

“We will issue a ban on alcohol consumption and a ban on selling alcohol outside of restaurants on November 11th for the entire day and in the entire city area, in addition to the already existing contact restrictions and closing times,” Reker confirmed.

Reker appealed to all citizens at a press conference in the Historical Town Hall: “We all have to miss out on celebrating on November 11th,” she said. “This time there will be no celebrating, this time there will be no singing, this time there will be no dancing.”

“This year there will be no November 11th celebrations. This year it will just be a day in the calendar like any other day.”

“Please stay at home, everyone,” the mayor appealed to the people of Cologne. “Do not celebrate at home either.”

The rules appear to leave a loophole, meaning private parties could still take place. A spokesperson later clarified that the ban on alcohol refers to public spaces, not to private homes.

Reker also called on people who normally travel to Cologne from other regions to also stay away this time.

Carnival president Christoph Kuckelkorn said that carnival revellers were “deeply sad” about the fact that this time they couldn't bring any colour into the gloomy November.

But he added that “at the same time we are also relieved that we are simply celebrating this day in peace and quiet, remembering how it used to be and looking forward to having it again soon”.

Carnival has been an integral part of life in Cologne and many other Catholic cities since the Middle Ages. It is traditionally a time for satire and tomfoolery, when locals dress up as Jecken (fools) and blow a raspberry at the establishment.

Cologne’s carnival is the biggest in Germany. Millions of people normally turn out on the city’s street during the Rosenmontag parade in late winter.

READ MORE: The rebellious history of Karneval

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Munich sees sharp rise in Covid cases after Oktoberfest

Since the start of Germany’s Oktoberfest, the incidence of Covid infections in Munich has risen sharply. Though a connection with the festival can’t yet be proven, it seems likely.

Munich sees sharp rise in Covid cases after Oktoberfest

Two weeks after the start of Oktoberfest, the Covid numbers in Munich have more than tripled.

On Sunday, the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) reported an incidence of 768.7 for the city of Munich, though updated figures for the end of the festival are not expected until later in the week. Usually, on weekends and public holidays, there is a delay in reports.

In the entire state of Bavaria, the incidence value on Sunday was 692.5.

According to Munich’s public health officer, Beatrix Zurek, bed occupancy in Munich hospitals has also increased. Two weeks ago, 200 beds in Munich were occupied by Covid patients, whereas there are now around 350.

Though a relationship between the sharp rise in infections with Oktoberfest, which ended on Monday, can’t be proven at the moment, it seems very likely, according to experts. A significant increase in Covid incidences has also been shown at other public festivals – about one and a half weeks after the start. 

READ ALSO: Germany’s famed Oktoberfest opens after two-year pandemic hiatus

After a two-year break due to the pandemic, around 5.7 million visitors came to this year’s Wiesn according to the festival management – around 600,000 fewer than at the last Oktoberfest before the pandemic in 2019, when there were 6.3 million.

Federal Health Minister Karl Lauterbach (SPD) took to Twitter to comment on the rise in incidence in Munich during the Oktoberfest. “This would not have been necessary if self-tests had been taken before admission,” he said.

“Compared to the price of a measure of beer, €2-3 (for tests) wouldn’t have mattered,” he said.

Even before the start of the Wiesn, he had spoken out in favour of people taking voluntary self-tests. Lauterbach stressed that now is the time for special measures against Covid.

“The development shows what will happen if the states wait too long with the mask obligation in indoor areas,” he added.

READ ALSO: KEY POINTS: Germany’s new Covid-19 rules from October

In neighbouring counties, where many Oktoberfest visitors came from, the number of Covid cases has also risen noticeably.  Beatrix Zurek said that it is unclear, however, how much of a role Oktoberfest played in these figures, as people are currently much more active socially overall, with concerts and other events also taking place throughout the state.

Christoph Spinner, an infections specialist at Munich’s Klinikum, has urged people not to be alarmed by the rising numbers.

“We had expected rising incidences here. We knew that there could be a doubling, tripling, even quadrupling,” he said.

He said that this is no cause for concern, as many people have been vaccinated or have also recovered from previous Covid infections, so any new infections are therefore usually mild.

The virologist advises people over 60 or with pre-existing conditions to get a second booster vaccination, but otherwise said people shouldn’t be alarmed by the rising incidences.