Two million watch German carnival parades

(dpa) - An estimated 2 million Germans and tourists in fancy-dress and facepaint defied showers and cold to cheer Germany's three biggest carnival parades of the year Monday.

Elaborate papier-mache floats in the cities of Cologne, Dusseldorf and Mainz poked fun at politicians and life's annoyances as bands played and tons of free sweets were thrown to the crowds.

Cologne's annual parade on the day known in German as Rosenmontag was so long it took four hours to cross the starting line. Organizers said 1.2 million people watched it.

The six days of high carnival in the city are set to end on Tuesday, Mardi Gras, with straw effigies being burned on the streets to symbolize the end of the merrymaking and the start of Lenten fasting.

Cologne's parade included a float depicting Chancellor Angela Merkel as a "Black Madonna" being worshipped by her political rivals.

In the big parade in Dusseldorf, papier-mache workers were shown being stabbed in the back by a Nokia mobile phone. This was a dig at Finnish mobile company Nokia for closing a plant employing 2,300 in the German city of Bochum.

The showers and temperatures just above freezing are part of the carnival tradition in Germany: the celebrations are valued as a way of beating the winter blues.

"True carnival kids don't care. Our clothes are warm," said Sigrid Krebs, a spokeswoman for the Cologne carnival.

A tenement-building fire that killed nine people who had been watching a carnival parade on Sunday in the city of Ludwigshafen put a pall on Monday's main parade in the city of Mainz, but it went ahead anyway.

The premier of Rhineland Palatinate state, Kurt Beck, skipped the Mainz parade to deal with the outcome of the fire.

Carnival is celebrated in traditionally Catholic cities in the Rhine Valley, where the whole populace used to eat less for six weeks until Easter. While fewer now observe Lent, most enjoy the last splurge before Lent begins.

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