On 11/11 each year, Cologne and many other parts of Germany celebrate the beginning of the carnival season. Why does it fall on this date in particular? Nobody knows for sure. In Cologne, people point to Count Adolf I. von Kleve. He's reported to have founded an order of clowns nearby on November 11, some time during the 14th century.
But just why they're celebrating on November 11th is of little concern to Cologne's many revelers. Thanks to this year's kick-off falling on a Sunday and with good weather, people were looking forward to a record turn-out. Around 70,000 visitors were reported in Cologne.
A figure known as Hoppeditz makes his appearance every year in nearby Düsseldorf to get things started. The clownish figure gives a humorous speech, satirizing and commenting on current affairs in the state capital. Carnival enthusiasts can look forward to celebrations that lead up to the big carnival party on the weekend of February 9-10, 2013.
Mainz is another spot famous for its carnival festivities, and tens of thousands celebrated. At a local market square, it is a tradition to read aloud what "laws" will apply during the carnival season, starting at 11:11 a.m. on November 11. And this year's motto is a nod to the political: it alludes with a wink to the much-discussed financial bailouts this year.
Eastern Germany celebrates carnival on a much smaller scale than in the West, but it's there, too, as these revelers outside of city hall prove. In Berlin, the president of the state parliament, Ralf Wieland, symbolically hands over the city's money box and key to the carnival prince, Frank, and his partner, Claudia.
Parades mark the high point of the carnival season, and the bigger the city, the more intricate the floats. At the 2012 parade in Cologne, US President Barack Obama made an appearance - in cardboard form. After his successful election campaign, he will now have four more years to live up to the superhero caricature presented here.
In the coming weeks, carnival celebrations will mostly take place indoors. Gatherings bring together speakers, dancers and musicians with paying audiences. And a number of prominent faces dot the crowd, like Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle.
On Ash Wednesday - February 13, 2013 - carnival in its many forms comes to an end. In the South and West, tradition has it that the clowns don mourning outfits, then wash their money pouches and hang them out to dry, indicating they've gone broke. Good thing they'll have until November to save up again!
In the Rhineland and in other parts of Germany, the carnival season has begun. Since the kick-off date of November 11 falls on a Sunday in 2012, many people are able to join in the celebrations.