You think carnival clubs are not for you? Think again! Here comes the one you didn’t expect – the Rutfront! It attaches particular importance to unreserved inclusion and our solidarity with people. The members see it as an important task, in the sense of cultivating our customs, to clearly demarcate carnival from fascist, racist, sexist, anti-Semitic and other misanthropic, discriminatory influences that run counter to the spirit of carnival. How, you might ask yourself… Author Friedemann talked to four members.
You can find the interview also on Spotify. Please note, there is only a German version of it.
At the Brauhaus
I’m sitting here with four Genoss*innen (comrades) from the Cologne Carnival club Rutfront in the brewery Em Kölsche Boor. We have ordered traditional dishes such as Himmel un Ääd (mashed potatoes with apples), Grünkohl with Mettwurst (green cabbage and ground pork sausage) and potato soup. Until the feast is brought, please introduce yourselves briefly! Who are you and how did you get into Carnival?
Andy: I’m Andy and I got into Carnival by being born in Cologne.
Johanna: I’m Johanna. I was not born in Cologne, but I grew up there. Here you get to know Carnival very early. In elementary school, you learn the first songs and dress up with cool costumes.
Luki: I’m Luki and I was also born and raised in Cologne. Carnival is something you’re born with here, and you’re part of it from an early age.
Nora: I’m Nora and I’m from Berlin, so I never used to celebrate Carnival and also dressed up super rarely as a kid. I’ve been living in Cologne for eleven years now, and for the first two years I also resisted Carnival. But since I celebrated for the first time, I was hooked.
When did you found Rutfront – and why?
Luki: We founded the association in the Corona summer of 2020.
Johanna: It exists because we all love Carnival, but unfortunately there are structures in Carnival which don’t allow everyone to have fun. This also applies to friends of ours – we founded the association so that we can celebrate with them as well!
Luki: We are speaking about marginalized groups, women, people of color – i.e. people who feel uncomfortable in certain situations at Carnival, be it because of sexual assaults or because of racist and sexist costumes. The carnival sees itself as cosmopolitan and it just doesn’t fit in if certain groups can’t be part of the party.
Nora: What is important to us, despite all these justified criticisms, is: We are not rejecting Carnival, but want to keep it and develop it further. We want to change something.
You also deliberately refer to tradition. What makes you traditional?
Andy: It’s important that we are a traditional Cologne Carnival club, because we think Carnival in its basic form is super cool – but we want to criticize and improve it in its current structure.
Johanna: We play kölsche Musik and don’t turn Carnival into a techno party.
Nora: Many Carnival songs are about equality – about the fact that everyone should join the party, including people who look different, come from a different place or speak a different language …
Johanna: … or who have no money.
Nora: We also like to dress up. Also, at our events we have vegan Mett (ground pork) as well as classic Mettigel (ground pork in the shape of a hedgehog whose spikes are made of onions), made of meat. And of course we drink Kölsch!
Johanna: We would also like to organize a parade or run in the Rosenmontagszug (Rose Monday procession).
Andy: And convene a Sitzung (a traditional Carnival session). A lot of things have been difficult so far because of the Corona situation. If you were legally allowed to celebrate, we were still hesitating. We often asked ourselves internally, “Can we do this? Is this appropriate?” And in the 2022 season in February, another war started. We haven’t really celebrated Carnival with our Verein yet. But we are ready, as soon as it’s possible!
Nevertheless, you have not been idle. Can you tell a little bit about your activities so far?
Luki: We have created a discussion paper. In this, we have prepared various topics that are important to us: Sexism, anti-Semitism, racism, classism or colonialism in Carnival, for example. The main point for us was to do some groundwork, to gain some basic knowledge. For example: In some of the traditional Carnival clubs, only men are allowed in the board of directors – that already excludes more than half of the population. Often in such clubs you have to pay 5,000 or even 10,000 euros for a uniform – this enforces the exclusion even more.
Nora: We also interviewed people on the street in a very pragmatic way. As a Rutfront street reporter, I quickly noticed that many people felt addressed by our ideas. There were so many women who told us about sexual assault. And I heard the story of how a person who looked homeless was turned away from an event and not given a beer – yet a famous Carnival song says, “Drink doch ene mit” („Have a drink with us!“)! You can re-watch these street polls in the highlights on our Instagram page.
Luki: On Wieverfastelovend (Carnival thursday) in 2022, we collected 620 euros in donations for the Cologne Refugee Council with a soli schnapps.
Andy: In 2021, we also launched a large, Cologne-wide poster campaign. Quite spontaneously, we had the opportunity to be present on advertising screens in the city. We designed a poster overnight and the next day it was on these huge LED screens. That was pretty awesome.
For a few years now, a phrase of an acquaintance got stuck in my head: He talked about Carnival offering a psychedelic potential – in other words, that it could contribute to changing society’s consciousness. How do you see that?
Nora: When we asked people on the street about dressing up, a lot of them went crazy about how cool it would be to dress up, to make something yourself – to be someone or something else!
Andy: Carnival was originally about rebelling against the establishment. Over time, it has become the establishment itself. We want to rebel and shake things up a bit more again.
Luki: The uniforms were also originally used to make fun of the military. Today, they’re a luxury.
Do you guys have a uniform as well?
Andy: We have red-white-gold Schiffchen – that pointed hat that you wear at carnival. In the long term, there should also be uniforms, of course not for 5,000 euros! But we have already reached our limits in the production of the shuttles. It’s not that easy to produce something like that with fairly produced fabrics.
How are you organized structurally?
Nora: At the top there is a woman – our secretary general Alina.
Luki: Then we have the central committee and a board of directors. In addition, we have several subcommittees: the committees for festivities, politics, propaganda or finances. In addition, there are the Bonze – people who support the association with money, but otherwise have nothing to say. 🙂
Andy: It is also important to note that the Central Committee is divided equally between men and women.
Johanna: And in all official letters only the feminine gender is used.
How important is humor to you? Especially when you also tackle serious topics?
Andy: Totally important. That’s the quintessence of the Cologne Carnival: to make fun of the authorities in a funny way. That’s what the Büttenredner (Carnival speaker) Karl Küpper did, for example, when he spoke out against the Nazis. So: Sure, humor has to be part of it!
At this point, we can refer to your video with a humorous as well as thoughtful carnival speech and some musical interludes.
Are you in touch with other Carnival clubs? How was your foundation received in „the Carnival scene“?
Andy: Well, we often don’t even know the names of the aforementioned elitist clubs. There is no contact.
Luki: But there are also really good clubs. We are for example in contact with the Kölsche Kippa Köpp (a Jewish Carnival association) or the KG Ponyhof. They want to work with us. We are not the only ones who are striving for a progressive, friendlier, more open carnival.
Nora: But we are the youngest.
Andy: Christoph Kuckelkorn, the head of the Cologne Carnival, has already written to us. He was very pleased about what we and others are doing as a new current in the Cologne Carnival. So we have already been awarded from the very top. Now we have to deliver down below as well.
A large number of your founding members are part of the Cologne art and cultural scene. Shortly after your founding, for example, you participated in the political art program “Kölscher Herbst” 2020 at Ebertplatz. Do you see a potential in this to have influence within other circles as well?
Nora: Definitely. Many people in these circles also like to celebrate Carnival, but are often not active themselves.
Andy: Often people who are active in the arts prefer to party to techno at Carnival. Why not celebrate with traditional kölsche Carnival music, which conveys the same idea of equality? If Carnival is anti-racist and anti-fascist in its basic intention, then we, being a traditional Carnival association, can also build the bridge between tradition and the art scene.
Nora: Even if our association has emerged from a Cologne art and culture bubble, it doesn’t have to stay that way. If someone feels like participating musically, organizing a party or writing a Carnival speech: You are very welcome!
How can people get involved with you?
Luki: We meet on the 11th of every month in the bar Pegel in Brüsseler Straße 10 in Cologne. You are always welcome to drop by!
Nora: We are definitely happy with new people joining in!
Andy: Everyone is welcome!