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Cologne’s carnival and trams – also in Bonn

Cologne's „Bläck-Fööss-Bahn", tramcar 4555 I © Christian Marquordt

Cologne, the largest city in the Rhineland and also the fourth largest city in Germany and one of its oldest, is proud to be one of the country’s carnival strongholds. The inhabitants maintain the “foolish” traditions, which most probably date back to the spring festival “Currus navalis” of the ancient Romans – however this cannot be fully proved. The similarity of the name “currus navalis” – Carnival – at least does not seem to contradict this idea.

Even if in many locations in Germany people are not familiar with the carnival, the so-called “fifth season” in the Rhineland is not only important, but also an important economic factor. Many tourists flock to the region from many parts of the country and also from other countries.

During the Cologne Carnival, numerous bands make music especially in the Carnival “op Kölsch” (Rhenish dialect). Typical Carnival songs are not just mood songs in the traditional “guise”, but also modern pop music, which, however, with Rhenish lyrics. An example? The beautiful “Du bes uns Stadt” from the “Bläck Fööss” (Bläck Fööss = Rhenish for “bare feet”), where even the Scottish bagpipe is played…

For several years now, it has been part of Cologne’s carnival tradition that Cologne’s municipal transport company KVB dedicates a tram to one of Cologne’s dialect bands every year for the carnival season. The tram is decorated in an advertisement-style to match the respective band. The trams either showing members of the respective band, sometimes there are short quotations from songs. Of course, the “real” Rhinelander can sing along …

This year, the Carnival tram is dedicated to the legendary band “Bläck Fööss“ on a Bombardier-built K4500 tram no. 4555. The “Bläck Fööss” will become 50 years old this year. 50 years? The members of the group should be well over 70 years old.

The “Bläck Fööss Bahn” does not show the band members of the Bläck Fööss. Only two of the original founders of the group are part of the band. Five new members have joined the band over the years. That is why the KVB decided to decorate the tram with the most famous titles with which and for which the “Bläck Fööss” became known.

Of course, not only the “Fööss” came to the presentation of the train on 31 January, but also celebrities from Cologne including KVB CEO Stefanie Haaks. Born in Lübeck, she has been at the head of Cologne’s public transport operator for a year.

Following the presentation on Neumarkt, tram 4555 undertook a journey on line 7 to the Poll district of Cologne and back again. “Bläck Fööss Bahn”? It goes without saying that the Bläck Fööss played on the trip. Last but not least, the song “Die Drei von der Linie Zwei” (which translates into „the three from line two“), a reminder of Cologne’s trams of former times , when trams and trailer cars used to be operated by drivers and conductors.

The Cologne Carnival S-Bahn

An old Rhenish proverb says: “anything that happens more than twice is a tradition”. In this sense, Deutsche Bahn AG also has a cherished tradition with its Cologne S-Bahn: for several years now, a multiple unit commuter train has been decorated as a Carnival train. The train is covered with representations of carnival “fools”: prince, farmer and virgin (the “Cologne triumvirate”), a dance officer of one of the numerous Cologne carnival societies at a lifting figure with his “Mariechen”, spectators on the train path at the Cologne Rose Monday procession.

It is a tradition that the carnival S-Bahn is presented by the so-called triumvirate: the prince, the farmer and the virgin which this year is called Ralf. But that’s also a good old Cologne tradition: the virgin is male.

Bonn – Prinz and “Bonna” conducting trams

Carnival traditions are also to be found in Cologne’s neighbouring city Bonn. There has been a tradition here for a number of years that the prince and his princess (known as “Bonna” in Bonn) take an evening tram tour through the city. Just a few years ago they drove on the historic party tram “Bönnsche Bimmel” (tram no. 14), which dates from 1911 as trailer car no. 33 and was converted into a motor tram car in 1949 with thorough modernization. Tramcar 14 however, has been re-located to the “Base Camp Bonn” event center since autumn last year as a static monument.

During the trips with tramcar 14 there was definitely one or two „Kölsch” beers for the carnival court and its guests. As mentioned, operation of tramcar 14 is now over. That is why Bonn’s prince couple are riding on a 1994-built Duewag low-floor tram.

Happy Carnival to everyone! Alaaf!

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