Alaaf or Helau

By Darlene Fuchs on Email

A very important regional distinction in Germany is the Carnival Salutation. Around Cologne this is “Alaaf”, and almost everywhere else it is “Helau”. One must be sure to never shout “Helau” in Cologne, or “Alaaf” in Mainz!

“Alaaf” comes from “Cöllen al aff”, which means “Cologne on everything”. This phrase was first used in 1635 by Prince Metternich in a petition. In the 18th Carnival Century “Kollen Alaaf” was the praise and toast meaning “Cologne alone – the old city at the front!” Until about 20 years ago, the Carnival Salutation had always been: “Kollen Alaaf!”.

“Helau!” This Karnevalsruf (Carnival Salutation) was first called out in 1935 by a delegation of the Mainz Prince Guard from Düsseldorf.  The salutation of “Helau” is a carnival stronghold spread throughout Germany and thus the most famous among the Call of Fools.  It is often mistakenly written with “ll” which is not correct.

The origin of “Helau” is numerous: On the Lower Rhine, the “Helau” was once a Hirtenruf (shepherd’s call).  Another explanation is that “Helau” comes from Alleluia (hallelujah). Some also argue that “Helau” came from “to hell” or “to help” (hel = Teutonic goddess of the underworld,) thus the word hell. Because Carnival is celebrated over a long period of time in the  winter, it was believed that the evil spirits at the opening of hell came up to distribute chaos over the earth. Others translate the word to mean “Halbblau” quite in contrast to the color blue, meaning {half blue or inebriated).


Photo © Ploync

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Darlene Fuchs