Carnival: How Germany is celebrating Rosenmontag in lockdown

Clowns, political floats and lots of shouting: Rosenmontag is usually a massive celebration in parts of Germany. Here's what's happening this year in the pandemic shutdown.

Carnival: How Germany is celebrating Rosenmontag in lockdown
Unna's Helmut Scherer is known for putting on the world's smallest carnival procession, which is pandemic friendly. Photo: DPA

It's fair to say that Rosenmontag is usually one of the biggest street parties in the parts of Germany that celebrate carnival, including Cologne and Düsseldorf.

But – unsurprisingly – this year things are very different. Due to the pandemic and ongoing lockdown restrictions, the big parades are cancelled.

Carnival events are understood to have fuelled the spread of Covid-19 at the beginning of the pandemic in Germany, leading to a rising number of cases in the state of North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW) as well as a number of deaths.

READ ALSO: 'You can't cancel carnival': How can Germany celebrate street festival in coronavirus times?

The last time Rosenmontag parades were axed in Düsseldorf and Mainz was in 2016 due to hurricane-force winds.

In Cologne, the last cancelled parade was in 1991: back then, carnival revellers decided to forego the procession because of the Gulf War.

So how are some of these places going to celebrate?

This year although the huge street parties are cancelled, the spirit of carnival is still alive – and many people might just spend the day in fancy dress in their home.

In Cologne there is a very small substitute: from 2pm broadcaster WDR will show the Rosenmontag procession in miniature form – as a production of the Hänneschen puppet theatre.

A 32-metre-long backdrop of Cologne's old town has been erected in the carriage construction hall of the Cologne Carnival Festival Committee.

READ ALSO: The calls you'll hear at Carnival – and what they mean

According to the festival committee, the small procession has everything that its big brother has. This includes floats with motifs, dance groups and, of course, spectators.

The floats by the Hänneschen procession show, among others, the pandemic health experts Karl Lauterbach, Christian Drosten and Hendrik Streeck who have all become high profile this year.

In true Karneval form, they also make fun of habits that emerged this year such as panic buying – Hamsterkauf in German.

A miniature Rosenmontag float showing a hamster with toilet paper rolls in Cologne. Photo: DPA

There is also a ray of hope for the Jecken in Düsseldorf. There, eight designs by famous float builder Jacques Tilly will be on display.

According to the Düsseldorf Carnival Committee, the sculptures will be placed in the city centre for about two hours. They will not be driven through the streets in a convoy, but individually on three different routes.

They're doing it this way because the carnival organisers want to prevent groups of spectators from gathering on streets and rules being violated.

READ ALSO: Düsseldorf Helau! How I embraced the Rhineland's carnival celebrations

'Bang the drum despite lockdown'

Otherwise Rosenmontag is for many people a normal working day in the carnival strongholds this year.

The Cologne University Hospital, however, is giving its employees Rosenmontag as a free “thank you day”. This is to honour the extraordinary commitment of the employees this year.

In the small city of Unna, meanwhile, the celebrations are going ahead as planned. That's because they are pandemic-friendly anyway.

Pensioner Helmut Scherer is known for putting on the world's smallest carnival procession. For more than six decades, he has been parading through the city centre on Rosenmontag by himself (or with a very small crew of one other).

To avoid crowds of spectators at the roadside, the 86-year-old has moved his solo spectacle to the city's hospital grounds this year:

“That way I can also bring a little joy to the patients there during this time,” Scherer told DPA. His motto this year is: “Bang the drum despite lockdown”.

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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.