Thousands of people took to the streets of Cologne on Thursday for the beginning of Germany's traditional carnival celebrations that are taking place under unprecedented security measures following a wave of crimes against women on New Year's Eve.
Some 2,500 officers have been deployed across the city, marking a threefold increase from last year. Police designated a safe zone near the city's famed cathedral for women under threat of sexual assault.
The celebrations are seen in Germany as an acid test for Cologne's police force, which is perceived to have failed in its attempt to crack down on a wave of sexual assaults and thefts on New Year's Eve and was accused of an uncoordinated response in its aftermath.
The five-day celebration began Thursday with the traditional "Weiberfastnacht," which sees women taking symbolic control of the city. One of the day's traditions includes women either kissing men and cutting off their ties.
Sexual assault is not an uncommon occurrence at carnival celebrations. An average of 50 complaints ranging from sexual assault to rape are filed with Cologne police each year.