Go to content
Share this page on

Carnival in East Belgium: local, traditional festivals for everyone

A tale of two traditions: from the Rhineland in the German-speaking community, walloon in the French-speaking community.

Share this page on
Eupen Rosenmontag 60(c)www.ostbelgien.eu Michael Dehaspe

 

Carnival in East Belgium is more than just a big party.

Held each spring before the start of Lent, there are important, time-honoured traditions to uphold.

During Cwarmê in (mainly) French-speaking Malmedy, revellers parade in garish traditional costumes, some of them adorned with long-nosed masks.

In German-speaking municipalities such as Sankt Vith, Kelmis, Raeren and Eupen, they follow Rhenish traditions, and dance to German songs. Today, here in Eupen, it’s Rosenmontag – Rose Monday. The February sunshine encourages the crowds to brave the cold as they await the arrival of the Carnival Prince 2023, Marco I.

 


 

A Rhenish carnival festival

“In Eupen we celebrate carnival according to the Rhenish tradition. You’ll find a similar tradition in Cologne,” says Alain Brock. He is a passionate “carnivalist” and chairs the carnival committee of the former carnival princes. “At carnival we celebrate this age-old custom of partying before Lent begins. Here it can be traced back to 1213. The tradition of colourful carnival clothing began at the end of the 18th century, when the cloth industry was flourishing here. During carnival, businesses were closed for three days so that everyone could join in the festivities. The left-over bits of material that people were allowed to take home were used to make their costumes.”

“In Eupen six traditional groups have been taking turns to appoint a carnival prince for decades,” continues Alain Brock. “And just over 80 private carnival groups participate in the procession each year. The floats are built over many months in advance. Everything is made by hand, even the costumes. During the festivities, groups gather early in the morning to get ready and do their makeup. An enormous amount of preparation goes into this four-hour procession. The applause when the prince passes by during the Rose Monday parade, that’s pure magic! That's why we do it,” he beams.

The final touches

During the weekend before carnival the final preparations are made. This applies in particular to the warehouse where several of the carnival floats are stored. The final finishing touches take place there: painting the last stripes on the floats, attaching the stickers, hanging the flags and lights. All the while, a succession of German songs resounds through the hall. That sets the tone!

The final seams in the costumes will also be sewn during this weekend. Mrs Bartholemy is 74 years old and has been making clothes for her daughter for more than 22 years. “Making clothes is my hobby. I really enjoy doing it for the carnival because I get to interact with young people,” she says, smiling. She got the “carnival gene” from her parents: as a child, she was always allowed to join in the celebrations. And she still participates every year, to this day. “I am on the organizing committee for the 'Old Wives’ Thursday' in Eupen. We have breakfast together at half past eight. Then we walk through Eupen via the retirement home, through the Bergstraße and to the Clown, the statue by the artist Joseph Braun that pays tribute to the carnival traditions of the city. We then visit the Mayor who – at 11:11am precisely – hands over the key to the Town Hall as a symbol of the transfer of power to the women. We walk through the city and party in the afternoon at the German-language newspaper Grenz Echo. Our festivities continue in the evening with the ball.”

The carnival princes 2023

Fabien Marichal is president of La Royale Malmédienne, a male choir that performs traditional songs, and he is also playing the role of Trouv'lê (the symbol of power) at the Malmedy Carnival 2023. As with his Eupen counterpart, Marco Demonthy – Carnival Prince 2023 Marco I of Eupen – it’s his job to lead his town through the planned festivities.

“During the pandemic, we dressed up and paraded through the streets to celebrate, in spite of everything,” says Prince Marco I with a smile. “That’s just how we are, us Eupen carnivalists: spontaneous and can-do minded. In those difficult times we did not lose heart: we found a way to celebrate carnival and uphold our tradition.” This 26-year-old carnivalist's greatest dream has come true, now that he is the Carnival Prince of his city for 2023. As a member of the carnival group called KKG Micky-Mäuse, he and his younger counterpart, the 10-year-old Youth Prince 2023 Thibo Fays, lead all the revellers through an extended weekend of exuberant partying. Youth Prince Thibo says: “I love carnival because it is so fun – there’s a lot of confetti. And we can celebrate it together as a family.” The carnival in Eupen is of course a much longer affair than just the organized festivities. Says Youth Prince Thibo, beaming: “Two weeks after carnival, my Mum is still finding confetti in our house. We always have confetti hunt at home!”

Order over chaos

The Cwarmê of Malmedy is similarly a celebration for young and old alike. “I feel like a bottle of champagne that has been maturing for far too long and is ready to explode!” exclaims Fabien Marichal. “So many emotions are bubbling up in me, now that our party can finally get going." While the Carnival Prince has become a central figure of festivals in the Rhenish tradition, the Trouv'lê fulfils a parallel symbolic role in the Cwarmê – and this means maintaining order during the festivities. “I ensure that everyone behaves according to the code of conduct that is appropriate for their particular role. As captain of the youth groups in the past, the Trouv’lê did his best to make sure they behaved.”

The roles of Carnival Prince and Trouv'lê do indeed have much in common. For six days they both serve as figureheads for their region – the former parading on a carnival float with his two pages, the other on foot to humbly maintain order. But beyond that, these carnivals are completely different, in both mood and culture.

 


 

Rose Monday: the big day

In Eupen, the Monday before Lent begins is called “Rosenmontag” (Rose Monday). The origin of the name is uncertain, but may relate to the golden rose that the Pope traditionally blesses at the end of Lent. It’s the day of the big parade, in which all the carnival groups participate. “Rose Monday was first celebrated here in 1884,” says Alain Brock. The procession passes right through the town, and back again.

In Malmedy, the last Monday before Lent is also very special. Fabien Marichal explains: “On Monday, La Royale Malmédienne – guardians of Malmedy’s folk traditions – presents stories, spoken and sung in the Walloon dialect, on various stages in the city. These plays are funny anecdotes about events from the past year – a beautiful thing to behold!”

Carnival in Eupen is celebrated enthusiastically by the town’s residents and the broader community. Party-lovers come dressed up, and sing along boisterously with the DJs on the floats, and shout out the carnival greeting “Alaaf!” at every turn. Anyone who experiences it for the first time will be amazed and charmed by the fun, love and spontaneity radiating from both the participants and the audience. Everywhere there are crowds enjoying the sun or dancing.

 

One of these is Marc from Düsseldorf: “Carnival here is much more sociable and fun than in Germany,” he says. “The outfits, the people, the themes, everything is much less politically focused.” If he wants to celebrate carnival, he’ll come to Eupen.

The prize for the best costume in 2023 goes to France and her family. They are dressed as the comic-book prisoners the Daltons. They live in Verviers, 15km to the west, but come to Eupen to celebrate every year. “We try to choose something fun for our carnival costume each year. In previous years we’ve been clowns or Romans,” she says with a smile. “We try to join other parades in the region as well.”

After a successful final tour of the city, Prince Marco I. stands with pride and pleasure as he watches the children pick up the gifts that he has thrown into the crowds as he passed. He is already trying to collect his memories. This is what it's all about: singing and dancing together, in a way that only the people of East Belgium know how. The floats can now return to their storage places – ready to do it all again next year. Alaaf!

Eupen Rosenmontag 42(c)www.ostbelgien.eu Michael Dehaspe

More Information

You might also be interested in

gerondal atelier 126

Pierre Gerondal - the only maker of wooden skis in Belgium.

Raised in Brussels, he moved to Malmedy to be closer to the wood, to nature – and of course to the snow. Find his story here ↓

104- AR40104

See inside the oldest and first organic distillery in Belgium!

We are visiting the Radermacher distillery, a family business for six generations making a whole range of products from whisky, rum and vodka to the most fruity jenevers (gin) and liqueurs. Ecological sustainability is a key factor in their operation. Bernard Zacharias is at the helm in the factory and invites us to join him in what he calls “his passion”.

inspi2

Look what's growing here

The little River Holzwarche in East Belgium is the focal point of a beautiful nature reserve, a perfect place for walks for young and old alike.

inspi5

Ground control

Full speed ahead: the trails of the new Stoneman Route are a real challenge, even for professionals.

Kelmis Rosenmontag 09(c)Iwan Jungbluth

Alaaf ! Helau ! Fahr’m Dar ! : the Rhenish carnival tradition in East Belgium

Carnival in East Belgium is celebrated by the locals and guests with great relish and in colourful costumes. It is well worth paying a visit to the region in spring to see the processions as East Belgians love a celebration and are happy to share this tradition with their guests.

inspi3

Crossing into no-man's-land

Situated in the border triangle between Belgium, Germany and the Netherlands, for 103 years the mining town of Neutral-Moresnet did not belong to any state.

inspi4

To Bellevaux, for serious beer

In the tavern of the Bellevaux brewery, customers can sample its range of beers: Brune, Blonde, Blanche, Lager, Black, Malmedy Triple.

inspi1

Dive in!

East Belgium has made relaxed living a way of life. And warmly welcomes guests.

Malmedy Cwarme Lu long ne 47(c)eastbelgium

The Cwarmê in Malmedy

Each year, a centuries-old tradition is revived at the Malmedy Carnival during the three days of revelling before Ash Wednesday. On the four “Fat Thursdays” beforehand (petites haguètes) the masked people make their way from pub to pub and poke fun at the guests, but in a nice and friendly manner (known as “lawer” in Walloon).

inspi6

The High Fens in focus

Skeletal trees, untrammelled nature, boardwalks over the wet moorland stretching into the mist – a hike in the High Fens always feels like a mystical and marvellous escape.

Wolfsbusch H©Udo Bernhart Interreg EFRE (93)

Von Kelten und Glücksrittern – eine Wanderung durch den Wolfsbusch

Julius Caesar, Zwerge und die Kelten: Ihnen allen begegnet man auf der knapp zehn Kilometer langen „Genusstour Flussgold“ durch den Wolfsbusch. 

19- AR40085-Edit

“Welcome to our 24th summer at the Burg-Reuland campsite!”

Three generations, every summer, at the same campsite: it’s a long-standing tradition for the Dutch Hoekman-Melaard family. In Burg-Reuland, at Camping Hohenbusch, they’ve found their second home among the green, rolling hills. In the beginning they used to bring a touring caravan, now they have a well-equipped static caravan. This charming family let us share their wonderful holiday for a day.

TAO Day 2 Stills 1.31.1

The Venntrilogie: three hiking routes for an intimate connection with nature

The Venntrilogie hiking route is a special new attraction for walkers in East Belgium. It allows them to discover the region around Eupen and part of the High Fens.

WandernmitHund Pixabay

Hiking with dogs

Discovering breath-taking landscapes whilst hiking through forests and along the water with your dog... Doesn’t that sound amazing? Hiking tours in Ostbelgien are a blast for everyone, man's best friend included. Here’s where you can hike with your dog and what needs to be considered in the process.

19- AR40085-Edit

“Welcome to our 24th summer at the Burg-Reuland campsite!”

Three generations, every summer, at the same campsite: it’s a long-standing tradition for the Dutch Hoekman-Melaard family. In Burg-Reuland, at Camping Hohenbusch, they’ve found their second home among the green, rolling hills. In the beginning they used to bring a touring caravan, now they have a well-equipped static caravan. This charming family let us share their wonderful holiday for a day.

(c) www.malmedy.be

Herring salad - The recipe

Herring salad, just the right thing for the carnival season. Here's the original recipe.

Thirimont FeWO Ferme du Père Louis

Embrace the pleasures of a stay in East Belgium: relaxed, easy – and sustainable!

Special places to stay where you can unwind to the rhythms of nature. Find out more here ↓

Kelleter (5)

Carnival pastries in East Belgium - there's something for every carnival person 

“Berliner”, “Krapfen”, “Quarkballen” and “Mutzen” are an integral part of the East Belgian carnival. Christoph Kelleter, a baker from Eupen, explains what they are all about. Take a look

1055 resized 1600 800 90 580e0be16d83f vennbahn am gruenen kloster 09-c-vennbahn.eu

10 jaar ‘slow travel’ op de Vennbahn

The railway line was converted 10 years ago into an asphalted path for cyclists and walkers. It runs for 125 km and, along its course, crosses national borders more than 14 times. The complete route goes from Aachen (in Germany) through East Belgium to Troisvierges (in the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg) –125 km of cycling fun in three countries! On the Vennbahn you can concentrate your gaze upon the beautiful landscapes and valleys, as you glide past forests, meadows and villages. What bliss!