I had been repeatedly warned that the whole area goes totally 'crazy' and 'descends into chaos' at this time, drinking, singing, dancing, dressing-up and going to parades etc. This sounded to me like the most cringe-inducing, organised 'fun' and a microcosm of everything I hate. It turns out that I'm not alone and many locals choose to escape on holidays. However one must not judge (well, not before trying it) and so I decided to go with Michael (a local and veteran Karneval goer), Aris, Karen and Ralph to the biggest parade in Köln on Rosenmontag.
Our plans were nearly scuppered when we were given observing time over the weekend but we organised around it. As it happened it snowed almost the entire time and so we could not observe due to snow sticking to the dish. Ralph and I nearly got stuck at the telescope and had to drive through deep, drifting snow back to Bonn.
On the Monday Michael (dressed as a clown) hobbled into the station having slipped on ice and hurt his ankle. Despite the pain he still wanted to go and see the parade. Karen had painted her face but Aris, Ralph and I remained steadfastly undecorated.
The train was full of people dressed up and Köln was thronging with costumed Germans shouting "Kölle Alaaf!", the traditional local-dialect greeting at this time. We made our way to the parade route and joined the crowd. The parade had tens of floats (often with political themes), marching bands etc. From the floats people were throwing candy and flowers into the crowd, the crowd egged them on by shouting for more. Everyone was drinking, singing (to truly awful marching band music), eating candy and enjoying themselves immensely. The crowd was also very well behaved (as drunken mobs go) and there were plenty of families.
After the parade we had some beers in bar nearby and listened to some more bad music before getting an U-Bahn back to Bad Godesberg. It was a rather sorry sight seeing Michael limping back home in his clown costume.
In the end I think the 'craziness' that I had been warned about was much over exaggerated. It was really just a few days of carnival and partying, the only thing that makes it crazy is that it's in Germany. Of course the next day everyone was back to studiously ignoring each other. I'm glad I went but I'm not sure I'll be back next year.