Bundesliga club FC Cologne have unveiled their special Karneval kit for 2020, not with any of their players but instead by enlisting one lonely clown to give fans an uplifting message of hope when there will be no public celebrations on the city's streets this year.
Jump to: Classic carnival kits
As the COVID-19 pandemic continues to inflict isolation on the world, people remain banned from venues in which culture and sports offer escapism. In Germany, Bundesliga matches have gone back behind closed doors for November and local authorities have been left with no choice but to cancel the carnival season (known as the unofficial "fifth season" of the year), which was due to open at 11:11 a.m. on Nov. 11.
That day, no matter how the grey the skies may be, thousands of people gather in the city of Cologne, one of the Karneval hotspots in Germany, to paint it in the brightest colours and leave the cruelties of the everyday life behind. Since 2013, some of those out on the streets of Cologne could be seen wearing the latest 1.FC Cologne carnival kit, designed and released especially for the occasion.
In the absence of a proper carnival season this year, FC Cologne have continued the tradition by launching the latest kit this week, with an emotional video of a clown walking the empty streets and hitting the empty pubs of the city.
"Imagine that you have lost your smile. This year, there will be no flowers. There will be no dancing," the narrator says as the "last clown" looks for happiness in life and waits for the pandemic to pass. "The good times will return. But this year, you are the one: The last clown! And you are smiling now. Your colourful heart beats until the end," he says as the clown dances into FC Cologne's empty RheinEnergieSTADION, only to reveal this year's iconic carnival kit to bring some joy into the eeriness which has filled the arenas this year.
"We are celebrating Karneval alone, together," the narrator signs off after the exquisite details of the kit have been revealed. Taking inspiration from the Lappenclown costume, a Karneval classic, it includes 11 symbols associated Cologne and its famous annual celebration. From the Kratzchen, the traditional jester's hat, to the Dom, Cologne's landmark cathedral. Gold emblems on the bottom of the shirt and the sleeves round off the design, which has been described as "abysmally ugly" by sections of the club's fans on social media, "but that's what the law requires."
Despite the club having different kit manufacturers over the years, Dennis Steimel has designed every carnival kit since they were introduced.
"You can't deny there is a certain cult character to it, all but one of the jerseys were top sellers," Steimel told ESPN. "But it's really hard to put the bond the people from Cologne have to the club, the city and the carnival. It's unique. That's the famous Jefohl (feeling).
"The German football regulations are not that strict for the special kits, and every year we can give free rein to our imagination. The city crest will always be in the middle of the chest, and certain elements like the Kratzchen, are recurring."
Football at all levels has been hit hard financially by the pandemic, but the Bundesliga clubs have not forgotten about their communities and that others suffer more outside of their relatively protected bubble. FC Cologne are no different, and they will put €1.11 for every kit sold towards charity and help promote culture projects in the region.
"We already sold over 3,000 jerseys on the first day -- that is a record," Cologne managing director Alexander Wehrle told ESPN. "Cologne is the German carnival capital and millions of people from all over the world come here to celebrate. But all of this can't happen amid the pandemic and after due consideration we decided that we wanted to stand by the kit also this year. It has become a tradition for many fans and a dear collector's item.
"We know that others have been hit harder by the pandemic than football has. Especially the culture scene. And with our donation we wanted to set a small example of solidarity."
The famous Cologne carnival kits have been worn in at least one match of every carnival season bar one since they were first introduced. Each year, the club bases the design on a Karneval slogan, with the first being: "Zokunf, mer spingse wat kutt (future, let's see what happens)." But Cologne have long been deeply attached to the local carnival. "During a carnival session we held 70 years ago, a circus director gifted us our heraldic animal Hennes, a real billy goat," Wehrle added. "His successor [Hennes IX] lives in the Cologne Zoo and, before the pandemic, was in our stadium for our matches."
Cologne are not the only club distributing a kit for the "fifth season." Further up the river Rhine, in the city of Mainz, Karneval becomes Fastnacht but the concept remains the same. Ever since 2016, the club have launched a Fastnacht kit every January and 2021 will be no different, again in defiance of the pandemic.
Mainz will continue to have a strong say in the design and will hope for some good luck as they, just like Cologne, battle relegation from the top tier. Here are some of the most memorable carnival kits that the two clubs have released in recent years:
This controversial kit was nearly never used, as it was launched in October 2015 but Cologne decided to not wear it in their match against Mainz only days after the Nov. 13 attacks on Paris during the France vs. Germany match at the Stade de France. Instead, Cologne sported it the following January when hosting Stuttgart.
A rather simplistic design with the Cologne city crest as a watermark on the jersey and the slogan "when we see our children we are speechless" embedded in the neck. The outlines of the Cologne Dom and the Kratzchen can be seen near each shoulder of the jersey.
Mainz embraced the seasonal icon that is the jester's cap for their first ever carnival kit.
Perhaps the best one to date, this jersey kept the club colours, featured all the classic elements and the slogan "Uns Sproch es Heimat (our language is home)."
Mainz's jersey sponsor Kommerling was replaced by the slogan "Unser Traum Lebt (our dream is alive)" as a reminder that Mainz were playing their 10th consecutive Bundesliga season in 2018-2019.