Known in the United States as Mardi Gras (actually French for “Fat Tuesday), the traditions of excessive celebrations and outrageous carnival parades prior to the pre-Easter fasting during Lent date back many centuries in Europe.

But you don’t have to head to the crowd-filled streets of big towns like Germany’s Cologne or Dusseldorf, France’s Nice, or Switzerland’s Basel to experience some great carnival parades in Europe. And you don’t even have to indulge in excess!

Carnival Parades Alstatten Confetti Cover

Small towns can have fantastic carnival parades and celebrations – with a more intimate and friendly atmosphere. Forget pushing and shoving or waiting long hours in the cold to see the carnival parade floats or eccentricities. Just walk right up and celebrate elbow-to-elbow with the town folk!

Carnival Parades in Alstatten with marching drummers

Carnival parades and shenanigans in Switzerland

Every region and town in Germanic areas, particularly the smaller ones, has its own customs, celebrations and events.

Carnival Parades Alstatten parade flag

HI Travel Tales has been to the great carnival parades in towns like Dusseldorf, but we truly cherished the small town carnival parades, celebrations and customs in smaller towns like Altstätten in Switzerland. There, the so-called Röllelibutzen organize carnival events, which date back to at least 1617, and the area is considered a real stronghold for carnival events.

Carnival Parades Alstatten confetti pink fills the air

There, we enjoyed a weekday afternoon children’s parade in 2015 where participants and observers alike donned at least a mask or hat.

Carnival parades with drumming bumblebees

Want to check out a small town Mardi Gras party? Then head over to Altstätten: Check out its upcoming dates here. In 2018, it takes place mid-February, but then in 2019 is back to late February / early March.

HITT Tip: Although in 2017 events in Germany will be over on Ash Wednesday (March 1, 2017), Basel, Switzerland actually celebrates its “Carneval” (a.k.a. Fasnacht) later, which means March 6-8, 2017. So you still have time to join the festivities!

Carnival traditions in Southern Germany

Then there are the small towns of Southern Germany in the state of Baden-Württemberg, an area that includes the renowned Black Forest. In this area, the “Swabian-Alemannic” carnival traditions are quite different than those farther north. Here, too, carnival associations spend the entire year continuing the traditions, working on costumes, and planning parades and events. You can only take part if you have lived there for a minimum number of years, and costumes and masks must conform to historical precedents.

Carnival Parades Fasnacht Geislingen with Lizard woman

Some of the costumes are quite old and handed down generation to generation to continue the carnival celebrations and their history. There, we were street side at the carnival parade in a small town called Geislingen, where many clubs have their own traditions, including the “Feuerhexen” (fire witches).  Click here to see a list of other groups in the area, and don’t miss the photo galleries if you don’t speak German!

Carnival Parades fasnacht Geislingen fire breather

HITT Tip: This website lists the celebration dates in Germany a couple of years in advance based on school holidays – it is important to make the party time a holiday, right? For example, the period falls quite early in 2018 since it corresponds to Easter so plan now! Here, you can find the upcoming dates for Basel’s party.

Traditions behind carnival parades and parties

Carnival’s roots actually go back to pre-Christian times when masks were donned to scare away winter spirits. Celebrations of some sort start as early as November but the biggest week is of course the last week leading up to Ash Wednesday. That means of course the dates for the big week of carnival parades in Europe change every year but generally are in February, with some festivities in January too.

Carnival Parades Fasnacht Geislingen wagon master with candy

So get ready to catch a few sweets tossed from the parade or be covered in confetti, don’t forget your camera, and be prepared to become a part since great carnival parade participants are known to dance, harass or even kiss those on the sidelines! Yes, we earned a few smacks – and deftly avoided a few rather drunken ones too.

In larger cities in Germany, the celebrations can get quite political (Warning: this is not PG material) with global and satirical statements, some of which can be quite controversial, particularly noteworthy for a country where correctness is usually king. Take a look here for some 2016 info from the Washington Post.

Carnival parades crowd walking by

 HITT Tip: Looking for a great small town carnival parade or week of events in German-speaking countries?  Remember: “Karneval” is what the celebrations are called in the northern Rhineland areas of Germany, such as Cologne. Other than that, look also for “fasching,” “fasnacht,” “fastnacht” and even “fassenacht” or “fasnet” It’s also known as the “fifth season.” The name depends on the region, as do the traditions and origins. Look closely, however, and you see some form of the English word “fast” (to abstain from eating) in many of these forms! (This website out of Cologne has some fun tales and history about the event, but it is only in German.)

Carnival Parades witch throwing candy to children

And if you have not been to a Mardi Gras-like Fasching celebration in Europe, put it on your bucket list and be sure to book far in advance. They are very popular.

 

Read more travel tips for Germany

Thai Park Berlin a feast for eyes and tummies seeking yum Thai food

Germany’s capital of Berlin offers every international food imaginable, in restaurants, street markets or, in the case of the most authentic Thai food in the city, spread across a park. Thai Wiese (Thai Park) comes alive every weekend with arguably the best Thai food in Berlin.

Read More

Battle for Berlin memorial at Museum Seelower Höhen

Just 1 hour and 30 minutes east of central Berlin by car, near the Polish border and the Oder River is the site of the biggest battle of WWII fought on German soil. Memorializing this battle at at Seelower Höhen (Seelow Heights) and located at the highest point overlooking the farmlands below sits the Museum Seelower Höhen.

Read More

Swiss Carnival parade a clean version just for kids

Carneval (a.k.a. Fasching, Mardi Gras, etc) is a time for debauchery in many locales where it is grandly celebrated. But in some small towns there are several days of parades, including ones just for kids – like this Swiss carnival parade I photographed.

Read More

Great carnival parades in Europe: Think small (Updated February 2017)

Known in the United States as Mardi Gras (actually French for “Fat Tuesday), the traditions of excessive celebrations and outrageous carnival parades prior to the pre-Easter fasting during Lent date back many centuries in Europe. But you don’t have to head to the crowd-filled streets of big towns like Germany’s Cologne or Dusseldorf, France’s Nice, or Switzerland’s Basel to experience some great carnival parades in Europe. And you don’t even have to indulge in excess!

Read More

The Schiffshebewerk Niederfinow near Berlin, Germany, is an engineering marvel

The Schiffshebewerk Niederfinow was completed in 1934 and is part of the Haavel-Oder waterway connecting the Elbe and Oder river basins. The waterway begins in Berlin at the Spandau lock and opens into the West Oder at the border area between Poland and Germany. Watching ships being raised and lowered in this ship elevator is amazing. A true engineering marvel.

Read More

Q110 Bank of the Future in Berlin by Deutsche Bank gets revamp

Earlier in 2016, HI Travel Tales wrote about a new kind of banking experience by Deutsche Bank called “Q110 Bank” or “Bank of the Future.” We were quite enthralled by the casual and friendly, yet efficient and hard-working experience. The concept we wrote about had been active for several years without much change (the branch itself originally opened in 2005), so Deutsche Bank decided it was time to re-think its original “concept bank” and try out something different. The update was unveiled on Nov. 18, 2016, on a rainy day near the outlet not far from Checkpoint Charlie in central Berlin (Mitte).

Read More

Haunting history on Berlin Underground tours

Underground city tours always seemed to be a tourist come-on to me, but then I discovered Berlin Underground tours. Not a for-profit business, not a tour that drops you off in a gift shop, not a tour that starts in a bar and highlights raucous partying, this is the real deal in Berlin’s Underground.

Read More

Quick Prenzlauer Berg travel guide to a Berlin hotspot

One of our favorite areas to highlight in our Prenzlauer Berg travel guide (and there are so many wonderful places it is hard to pick just one) is indeed along Kollwitzstrasse and around the Kollwitzplatz (named after artist Kathe Kollwitz appropriately enough — check out her artwork at Artsy’s Käthe Kollwitz page). Farmers markets, street festivals and more are regular occurrences.

Read More

A colorful market watercolor near Café Anna Blume

As we sat at dinner at Café Anne Blume sipping wine on the patio on a warm summer evening, I became entranced by the colors of a small market across the street. I just had to “paint and draw” the scene using my iPad for this watercolor view from Café Anna Blume.

Read More

Jewish cemetery at Schönhauser Allee is peaceful yet haunting

The Jewish cemetery at Schönhauser Allee in Prenzlauer Berg, Berlin, is a beautiful, peaceful and yet haunting place to wander. It is well worth at least an hour. Keep in mind that men are asked to cover their heads, so if you do not have a hat, be sure to don a kippah as you will see Michael did in this video — available at the front entrance in a small basket.

Read More

Artist’s war memorial at Berlin Bethlehemkirchplatz

The memorial on the Berlin Bethlehemkirchplatz (Bethlehem Church Square) is actually the work of Spanish artist Juan Garaizabel to commemorate the Bohemian Bethlehem Church. This small church was built for Bohemian evangelical refugees in about 1735 and was a center of the community. It was destroyed by bombing in 1943.

Read More

International Donaufest Fireworks In Ulm 2016

The International Donaufest (Danube) Festival has been held since 1998 and occurs every other year. Ulm city center and the banks of the Danube river are turned into a sort of international festival to celebrate the coming together of regions and countries along the Danube that rely on the river — Bavaria, Austria, Hungary, Serbia, Croatia, Bulgaria and Romania. The festival last 10 days and includes a massive fireworks display. HI Travel Tales was there this year to witness the fireworks extravaganza from the banks of the Danube.

Read More
Heads up! This information on great carnival parades was accurate when we published it on HI Travel Tales, but, as we know, traveling is all about changes (and inflation, sadly). Please be sure to confirm prices, transportation schedules, hours of operation, safety and health considerations, request for perfect weather during your entire visit, and any other important details before your adventure.
Follow Me

Therese Iknoian

Traveler at HI Travel Tales
Little did her parents know that a short trip to Europe in high school would launch a lifetime love of travel, languages and cultures. Trained as a news journalist, Therese Iknoian spent a decade as a daily newspaper journalist before launching a freelance writing career specializing in outdoor, fitness and training. All the while trotting the globe, her focus finally turned to travel. Fluent in German, Therese runs a translation business (www.ThereseTranslates.com) working primarily with companies in the outdoor/sports/retail industry. Also a French speaker, she loves to learn a bit of the language wherever she goes -- gdje je kupaonica? Мне нужна помощь! -- often embarrassing herself in the quest for cross-cultural communication and the search for great travel discoveries.
Follow Me