Jeremy Clarke

Spring fever in Cologne

Chasing the shadows of New Year’s Eve through the spring carnival

Spring fever in Cologne
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Last week the indigenous white population of Cologne took to the streets once again to celebrate their annual ‘Crazy Days’ spring carnival. I stepped out of the hotel at ten o’clock on the morning of the designated ‘women’s day’, wondering how the women of Cologne had reacted to the events of New Year’s Eve, and to Mutti Merkel waving in a million-plus young Muslims per year to pep up the flagging gene pool of the 10 million indigenous males aged 20–30. As the Economist magazine’s ‘World in 2016’ supplement, throwing off all pretence, so excitedly puts it: ‘There is only one last hurdle to Germany officially becoming a land of immigrants, and it is politics.’

In the cobbled streets of Cologne’s Altstadt, I join a drunken crowd of Father Christmases, bloodied hospital patients, admirals, policemen, highwaymen, after-dinner speakers, sheep, robots, matelots, musketeers, airline pilots, football referees, Sherwood foresters, clowns, druids, more police (real ones this time, sprinting pell-mell through the crowds towards an incident), City slickers, Woodstock-era hippies, surgeons, deep-sea divers, ghostbusters, bishops, Arab sheiks, gnomes, fairies, seraphim, ancient Greeks, Romans, pharaohs, convicts, surfers, wizards, punks, fly agaric mushrooms and bananas. The festive human current sweeps me up and bears me along. Rousing German drinking songs issue from loudspeakers outside every bar. Inside and outside the bars people are singing and dancing. The bars are rammed to the ceiling with dancing, singing Germans. The atmosphere in the street is good-natured and humorous, though there are the fallen, the puking, and the unconscious to be negotiated, and some of the teenage boys are dangerously out of their minds. Cologne’s senior citizens are out in force, too, perhaps exerting a civilising effect on the youth. The gravity of an elderly German couple dressed as chickens picking their way across the broken glass of a thousand smashed Jägermeister bottles is something to see. Cologne Germans have English faces. I must have a Cologne face because not infrequently people bawl German at it from six inches away.

It is something of a relief to find myself unexpectedly on the chilly, windswept bank of the majestic river Rhine with room to move. Tethered to the bank is an enormous double-decker pleasure cruiser, perhaps 150 yards long, the all-glass exterior affording a view of the interior life of the ship, like the cross-section of an architectural drawing. Along the entire length of the ship, on both decks, revellers in fancy dress are dancing like maniacs to music I can’t hear. I lean on the promenade rail to take in the extraordinary sight. Leaning meditatively on the rail next to me is Il Duce, resplendent in a dazzling white field-marshal’s uniform and regal white cape. The guy is about 70 and his face in repose bears the same serene belligerence as the subject of his impersonation. ‘Der Führer must be spinning in his shallow grave,’ I observe in English. Il Duce acknowledges my comment by slowly closing his eyes.

Crusader knights, Vikings, highlanders, polar bears, Dalmatian dogs, fortune tellers, tigers, demons, monks, tatterdemalions, Tudor gentlemen, William Tells, Teletubbies, tarts. And look — here come Napoleon and Josephine! A woman dressed as a dice, and so beautiful I have to avert my eyes, shouts: ‘L’état, c’est moi!’ Which only goes to show that German education isn’t what it was, either. ‘Are you worried about being sexually assaulted by North African migrants?’ I ask her. She and her friend laugh at me as if I’ve made a very good joke. ‘Let me ask you something. Are you mad?’ she says.

I continue to drift on the crazy human current and next find myself on the forecourt of the Cologne central station. Beside the open door of a police van, officers are interviewing four men of North African appearance. The interviewees are small of stature. One of them is wearing a silver top hat with the words ‘Happy New Year’ written across the front. The German police officers have middle-class faces. The last time I was in Germany was 1976, in Frankfurt. My friends and I were arrested for fighting with the police. Afterwards they were frightfully decent about it all, and in the morning they let bygones be bygones, released us, and even helped us find the car. Since then I have always laughed when I think of the exceptional niceness of the German police. Germans: don’t you just love them? One minute they are a Nazi state, the next a hippy one.

A circular crowd is grooving to a pirate steel drum band tonking away at its centre. I pass through the swing doors into Cologne Central station, walk up to the information desk, and ask the woman behind the glass: ‘Were you working here on New Year’s Eve?’ She nods grim assent. ‘The sex attackers — were they refugees?’ I ask her. She wags an admonitory finger. ‘No. They were North Africans,’ she said. ‘They come here almost every night to deal drugs.’

‘What sort of drugs?’ I say, keen to buy. She says she has no idea.

Back outside on the thronged station forecourt, a bunch of six male bananas are getting on famously with eight Superwomen. I go to the tourist information office on the far side of the forecourt. The woman behind the counter is dressed as a chef. She has a Hitler moustache drawn on her upper lip in black felt tip. ‘My wife,’ I say, ‘is terribly worried that while she is here she might not be sexually assaulted by North African drug dealers. Is there anything you can suggest that will calm her fears?’

‘If she is assaulted she should find a policeman,’ says the woman, shortly. ‘There are more than 2,000 here today.’ ‘That is very reassuring,’ I say. ‘Many thanks.’

Back out on the forecourt, a police press spokeswoman is giving a TV interview. When she’s finished, I intercept her and introduce myself as an English journalist representing The Spectator, the oldest magazine in the English-speaking world. I am dressed as a Regency buck in a dazzling tailcoat richly embroidered with gold, silver and purple curlicues and coronets. Instead of a powdered wig and tricorn, however, I am wearing a red sequinned trilby hat decorated with multi-coloured lights. The lights have three settings: fast flashing, languid flashing, and just plain on. I’m switched to fast flashing.

‘Why is Germany committing national suicide?’ I ask her.

She has very blue eyes. ‘This is of course a matter for the politicians, not the police,’ says she.

Danke schön,’ I say, bowing low.