Party On Carnival in Germany Despite Terror Threats

Traditionally, Germany's Rose Monday parades mark the high point of Carnival, but this year they were marred by cancellations, warnings of terrorism and travel delays. The parade floats showed an exuberant, defiant take on terrorists and politicians alike.
In Düsseldorf a clown dubbed "humor & satire" is biting Mohammed's bottom, with the words "He who laughs last laughs longest."

People usually look forward to the Rose Monday Procession with anticipation, excitement and joy – but this year, these emotions were matched by fear and discomfort.

The traditional carnival celebrations in the Rhineland region are famous for taking on controversial issues and politicians alike in a festival of raging satire.

This year, the big question was how far people would go in taking on issues such as Mohammed caricatures, the Paris attacks and the anti-Islam movement that started in Germany late last year.

“There will be no Mohammed in the parade," said Jacques Tilly, one of the artists who builds floats for the Rose Monday Procession in Düsseldorf. “I'm not suicidal.”

A parade spokesperson agreed, saying “God and the Prophet are off limits.”

But in the end, they showed up after all.

All the floats were kept secret until the parade started on Monday in early afternoon.

In Düsseldorf, there was a float with three Mohammeds covering their eyes, ears and mouths saying “terrorism has nothing to do with religion.”

On another float, two skeletons named “IS” and “Al Qaida” were arm-wrestling in a competition.

Another float showed a headless Charlie Hebdo reader with a speech bubble saying "you cannot kill satire," while being chased by a masked terrorist swinging a blood-smeared sword.

The carnival period in Germany officially starts on November 11 at 11.11 am, and ends tomorrow, on Ash Wednesday, followed by a 40-day fasting period until Easter.

In past years, artists, designers and sculptures floats have embraced the controversial, creating towering sculptures sure to shock, including a model of Adolf Hitler as excreting matter labelled NPD, which stands for Germany’s radical right-wing party called the National Democratic Party of Germany, in 2007.

The largest Rose Monday processions usually take place in Düsseldorf, Cologne and Mainz, and this year attracted two million people.

Popular targets in this year's floats included Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras taking aim at a giant German Chancellor Angela Merkel with a slingshot.

Russian President Vladimir Putin was depicted French-kissing the head of the Russian Orthodox Church, and Pope Francis dealing with money-loving bishops in a critique of the Catholic church.

This year, the city of Braunschweig, located in Lower Saxony, cancelled its Rose Monday procession amid warnings about terrorism – the first time in its 37-year existence. “We know we have extremists in this area and are considered a hot spot for these people here,” the police president, Michael Pientka, told German TV reporters on Monday.

The U.S. government issued a travel warning for people heading to carnival areas in Germany.

German anti-Islam protesters in Düsseldorf, called Dügida, announced a protest march on Monday night in Düsseldorf on  the same day as the procession. But organizers cancelled their plans before the event, which apparently had also been banned by the police.

Pegida, the anti-Islam movement, originally started in Dresden and found imitators in Düsseldorf that are considered more radical than the original group. According to the organizers, they do not work together. After the cancellation of their demonstration planned for Monday, some radical right-wingers said they planned to mingle among the crowds dressed as suicide bombers to cause panic.

The parades went peacefully though with attendees enjoying the street parties and defying the threats.

"We're carrying on our carnival as usual and won't let these threats stop us," one participant dressed as children's book character Pippi Longstocking told reporters.


Franziska Scheven is an editor with Handelsblatt Global Edition, mostly covering companies and markets, as well as politics. To contact the author: [email protected]