food / travel

Germany's Carnival, A Billion-Euro Bash Where The Beer Flows Aplenty

Carnival season has just kicked off in Germany. In Cologne and Düsseldorf, hotel and restaurant owners are raking in millions from the beer-fueled festivities, which seems to be getting bigger – though maybe a tad more commercial – with each passing year.

The Cologne Carnival in 2009 (RuckSackKruemel)
The Cologne Carnival in 2009 (RuckSackKruemel)

DÜSSELDORF - At the Füchschen, a private brewery in Düsseldorf, it's elbow to elbow. Costumed guests push, shove, laugh and raise their glasses with a loud "Prost!" The place is bursting at the seams, and its 40 staffers are having a hard time keeping up with orders – they can't tap the Altbier, roll in new kegs or clear empty glasses fast enough. Peter König, the owner, is delighted: "We have a huge turnover during Carnival," he says.

Just 40 km down the Rhine, it looks pretty much the same except that here the beer is light instead of dark. At the Früh am Dom, a pub near Cologne's iconic cathedral, "between Altweiber Thursday before Ash Wednesday and Aschermittwoch Ash Wednesday we sell 300,000 glasses of lager," says Dirk Heisterkamp, the bar's head of sales.

Cologne and Düsseldorf are two of Germany's biggest Carnival cities – a fact that escapes neither German nor international attention. As hundreds of thousands stream in to celebrate, hotel and restaurant receipts surge. The Boston Consulting Group estimates the economic power of the Cologne Carnival at 460 million euros, while the organizers of the Düsseldorf Carnival estimate the take for each big event (called a "session") in the annual celebration at roughly 240 million euros.

Making millions on costumes and medallions

During the past few years, Carnival in Rhine country has escalated from being a local custom to a full-blown international attraction. A whole industry has grown up around it that isn't just limited to sales during Carnival period. The money, in fact, comes in year round. According to the umbrella organization of German toy industries, over 330 million euros worth of costumes, hats and make-up were sold in 2011.

"It provides a good living," says Hans-Jörg Bornheim, general manager of Party Clowns, a specialized store in Cologne. No wonder, when nowadays no dancer would dare show up for a parade or performance without a professional costume. "Practically every session costs money these days, so obviously people also want to see dancers wearing good costumes."

Bornheim specializes in making Carnival outfits and uniforms: there are costumes for all the traditional roles, from Funkenmariechen (red-coated dancing girls) to the "princely couples' that represent the German states. What began as a hobby has, for Bornheim and his wife, become a full-time occupation. Now they sell year round, Bornheim says. A hand-made costume costs 1,200 euros. According to Boston Consulting figures, 1.5 million costumes and 460,000 accessory items are sold in Cologne alone every year, making up a fifth of the total annual carnival turnover in that city.

Not surprisingly, two of Cologne's largest costume purveyors, Karnevalswierts and Deiters, are expanding. By next year, Deiters is planning on increasing its sales surface from 5,000 to 8,500 square meters – which means costumes filling a space larger than a soccer field.

Add to that the orders (pins, medallions etc.) that are handed out – 104,000 in Cologne alone, amounting to 5.1 million euros worth. Orders, which can cost around 10 euros each for the good quality variety, are big business in Düsseldorf as well. "The princely couple alone ordered some 2,500," says Hans-Peter Suchand, press speaker for the Düsseldorf Carnival Committee that organizes the Rose Monday Parade in the capital of the state of North Rhine-Westphalia.

Many of the orders are manufactured in Wuppertal, where Adam Donner GmbH is headquartered. The company produces 120,000 pins, medallions and more per year, each one hand-painted so that it is virtually a unique piece. For general manager Sylvia Schäfer and her husband Wolfgang, who are enthusiastic participants in Düsseldorf, carnival is a bit of living culture. It also proves year after year to be a huge source of both German and foreign contracts. Since 2009, there has even been a Chinese Carnival princess who represents her country in Cologne.

Parties come in all shapes and sizes

Many traditionalists say the Carnival has become far too commercial. The trend, however, is hardly going to be reversed. In Cologne, they say that mega-parties like the ones held in the huge Lanxess Arena take the sheen off the smaller traditional "sessions." But organizer Eberhard Bauer-Hofner says the success of the arena extravaganzas shows that Carnival can be more than just a street event.

"Whether they're in their 20s or their 70s, people love them the mega parties," he says, adding that when tickets go on the market in April – 10 months beforehand – they sell out within two days. "And I heard from the Cologne Carnival Committee that the smaller sessions were full this year," so the big events aren't crowding out the smaller ones, he adds.

Hans-Peter Suchand in Düsseldorf says he doesn't fear competition from the Lanxess events. "Attendance of sessions always varies, and depends more on program, location and which carnival group is organizing," he says. He doesn't think the bigger, more commercial events diminish the more traditional ones. On the contrary, "in Düsseldorf we're finding that some events are far better attended this year than they were last year."

Attendance is one problem the breweries don't have. From Carnival Thursday to the following Tuesday they are full to bursting. The Cölner Hofbräu P. Josef Früh KG, for example, has a higher turnover in February alone than it does during the entire summer season.

But due to overcrowding and the onslaught of tourists, some Cologne locals have started to avoid the big breweries during Fasching. They prefer to go to their usual pubs instead. Back in Düsseldorf, the Füchschen is so jammed you can't see the floor. "The biggest day is Thursday, when everybody's still fresh," says owner Peter König. But over the past couple of years, week-end sales have been strong as well. "Sometimes we sell so much we don't have enough beer left to make deliveries to our regular customers."

When Carnival is over, König gives his staff a day off and closes shop. As for his turnover, some of it gets re-invested back into the business right away: the celebrating hordes do so much damage to his establishment he has to renovate every year.

Read the original article in German

Photo - RuckSackKruemel

Keep up with the world. Break out of the bubble.
Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!

How Thailand's Lèse-Majesté Law Is Used To Stifle All Protest

Once meant to protect the royal family, the century-old law has become a tool for the military-led government in Bangkok to stamp out all dissent. A new report outlines the abuses.

Pro-Democracy protest at The Criminal Court in Bangkok, Thailand

Laura Valentina Cortés Sierra

"We need to reform the institution of the monarchy in Thailand. It is the root of the problem." Those words, from Thai student activist Juthatip Sirikan, are a clear expression of the growing youth-led movement that is challenging the legitimacy of the government and demanding deep political changes in the Southeast Asian nation. Yet those very same words could also send Sirikan to jail.

Thailand's Criminal Code 'Lèse-Majesté' Article 112 imposes jail terms for defaming, insulting, or threatening the monarchy, with sentences of three to 15 years. This law has been present in Thai politics since 1908, though applied sparingly, only when direct verbal or written attacks against members of the royal family.

But after the May 2014 military coup d'état, Thailand experienced the first wave of lèse-majesté arrests, prosecutions, and detentions of at least 127 individuals arrested in a much wider interpretation of the law.

The recent report 'Second Wave: The Return of Lèse-Majesté in Thailand', documents how the Thai government has "used and abused Article 112 of the Criminal Code to target pro-democracy activists and protesters in relation to their online political expression and participation in peaceful pro-democracy demonstrations."

Criticism of any 'royal project'

The investigation shows 124 individuals, including at least eight minors, have been charged with lèse-majesté between November 2020 and August 2021. Nineteen of them served jail time. The new wave of charges is cited as a response to the rising pro-democracy protests across Thailand over the past year.

Juthatip Sirikan explains that the law is now being applied in such a broad way that people are not allowed to question government budgets and expenditure if they have any relationship with the royal family, which stifles criticism of the most basic government decision-making since there are an estimated 5,000 ongoing "royal" projects. "Article 112 of lèse-majesté could be the key (factor) in Thailand's political problems" the young activist argues.

In 2020 the Move Forward opposition party questioned royal spending paid by government departments, including nearly 3 billion baht (89,874,174 USD) from the Defense Ministry and Thai police for royal security, and 7 billion baht budgeted for royal development projects, as well as 38 planes and helicopters for the monarchy. Previously, on June 16, 2018, it was revealed that Thailand's Crown Property Bureau transferred its entire portfolio to the new King Maha Vajiralongkorn.

photo of graffiti of 112 crossed out on sidewalk

Protestors In Bangkok Call For Political Prisoner Release

Peerapon Boonyakiat/SOPA Images via ZUMA Wire

Freedom of speech at stake

"Article 112 shuts down all freedom of speech in this country", says Sirikan. "Even the political parties fear to touch the subject, so it blocks most things. This country cannot move anywhere if we still have this law."

The student activist herself was charged with lèse-majesté in September 2020, after simply citing a list of public documents that refer to royal family expenditure. Sirikan comes from a family that has faced the consequences of decades of political repression. Her grandfather, Tiang Sirikhan was a journalist and politician who openly protested against Thailand's involvement in World War II. He was accused of being a Communist and abducted in 1952. According to Sirikhan's family, he was killed by the state.

The new report was conducted by The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), Thai Lawyer for Human Rights (TLHR), and Internet Law Reform Dialogue (iLaw). It accuses Thai authorities of an increasingly broad interpretation of Article 112, to the point of "absurdity," including charges against people for criticizing the government's COVID-19 vaccine management, wearing crop tops, insulting the previous monarch, or quoting a United Nations statement about Article 112.

Juthatip Sirikan speaks in front of democracy monument.

Shift to social media

While in the past the Article was only used against people who spoke about the royals, it's now being used as an alibi for more general political repression — which has also spurred more open campaigning to abolish it. Sirikan recounts recent cases of police charging people for spreading paint near the picture of the king during a protest, or even just for having a picture of the king as phone wallpaper.

The more than a century-old law is now largely playing out online, where much of today's protest takes place in Thailand. Sirikan says people are willing to go further on social media to expose information such as how the king intervenes in politics and the monarchy's accumulation of wealth, information the mainstream media rarely reports on them.

Not surprisingly, however, social media is heavily monitored and the military is involved in Intelligence operations and cyber attacks against human rights defenders and critics of any kind. In October 2020, Twitter took down 926 accounts, linked to the army and the government, which promoted themselves and attacked political opposition, and this June, Google removed two Maps with pictures, names, and addresses, of more than 400 people who were accused of insulting the Thai monarchy. "They are trying to control the internet as well," Sirikan says. "They are trying to censor every content that they find a threat".

Keep up with the world. Break out of the bubble.
Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!