It begins with Women’s Carnival on the Thursday before Shrove Monday and ends with Ash Wednesday. Thousands of party-goers will celebrate the carnival again this year. For days there is singing, dancing – and above all drinking. But is carnival just a harmless cause for celebration? Or does this “fifth season” – especially due to the high alcohol consumption – involve an increased risk of accidents?
The origin of carnival
Since the 12th century, Christians have celebrated Carnival to enjoy the carnal and gluttonous time before Lent. The word “Carnival” comes from the Latin “carne vale”, which means “meat, farewell”. On this occasion, people dress up and roam the streets to drive away winter, demons and witches. Cologne in North Rhine-Westphalia is known as the home of Carnival in Germany. Since 1823, a large procession has been held on Shrove Monday every year. The main dates for Carnival run from Weiberfastnacht (the Thursday before Shrove Monday) to Violet Tuesday (the Tuesday after Shrove Monday). It all ends on Ash Wednesday and Lent begins. Officially, however, the country’s so-called fifth season will begin on April 11.
At Carnival, we celebrate, sing, laugh…
In many cities, Carnival culminates in Shrove Monday parades. Crowds of people in disguise pour into the city – to watch the parade or take part in it in person. During the parade, sweets – originally caramel candies, so-called “llamas” – chocolates and sometimes individual flowers. Last year’s Shrove Monday parade in Cologne distributed some 300 tons of sweets to more than one million visitors. Afterwards, the festivities continue in bars or tents with lots of dancing. If you show up unabashedly, you will be noticed unhappily, at least at the risk of askew looks and comments. Because carnival people take their costumes very seriously: on average around 300 million euros are invested in self-sewing and buying costumes in Germany every year.
…and drink by the gallon.
Like the big parties, there is a lot of alcohol flowing at Mardi Gras. In Weiberfastnacht alone, more than 40,000 Alt beers are brewed by Düsseldorf’s major breweries. Unfortunately, the effects of alcohol are often underestimated. The line between “everything is fun” and a complete breakdown is often very thin. At carnivals in many places, you can already see daytime drunks stumbling through the streets. Especially notable is the fact that many young people get extremely drunk at the carnival. On the one hand, alcohol lowers the threshold of inhibition, so there is more dancing and flirting—a desirable outcome. On the other hand, however, alcohol significantly reduces risk perception – a very adverse effect. As a result, drunk driving accidents are up 25% compared to the rest of the year. There was also a significant increase in the number of bar fights and serious falls, such as when falling from a moving van or while dancing on a bench or counter. In addition, there were 529 evictions, 202 detentions and 437 reports of physical injury during Cologne Carnival 2018. There were also 106 drug abuse cases. In addition, the police received 35 reports of sexual crimes. But alcohol isn’t the only cause of anxiety. In a classic carnival parade, horse-drawn carriages also pose a risk. When a horse gallops in a parade, usually nothing happens. But don’t forget that horses are game, and although they are calm and well trained, they may be startled by something and run away at any time. In 2018, five people were seriously injured when a carriage ran away during the Rose Monday parade in Cologne.
A sober carnival as the solution?
Especially anti-Carnival opponents will certainly welcome a sober holiday, since in Cologne it has already been described as “the only wine”. But sober binge periods are not the same as accident-free periods. Even sober people are still at risk of being thrown or falling. Also, most carnival attendees see sharing a gin or beer as part of the carnival, which is why a total ban on alcohol during carnival week is likely to meet a lot of resistance.
So what help? Alcoholic beverages of one kind or another are fine as long as they are kept in moderation. However, to reduce the risk of accidents, well-known tips should be followed: create a good base for food, such as the popular carnival pastry Berliners, and sometimes skip a round and drink water in between. Also heed the adage “beer to wine, let’s be” so don’t overdo it. Not only will this prevent accidents, it will greatly reduce the chances of a hangover the next day. Let’s be honest: no one really wants to do this. Additionally, glass bans have been introduced in many places. The streets used to be littered with debris and empty glass bottles where passers-by could hurt themselves. The glass ban was met with a positive response and also kept Mardi Gras free of broken glass and cut rugs.