With its sense of vibrancy and vitality, Lucerne's carnival – which the locals call their "fifth season" – is woven into the fabric of the city. During those few days of carnival, the population is in a festive mood. We help you make sense of the carnival-tide chaos and point up the must-see events.
The Lucerne carnival traditionally starts on a Thursday (Schmotzige Donnschtig) at five in the morning. You need to get to the lakeside promenade at around 4 a.m. At five o'clock on the dot you hear a loud explosion (the Urknall – Big Bang) on the lake, shortly followed by the arrival in a boat of Bruder Fritschi (Brother Fritschi) and his family. They make their way to the Fritschi Fountain in Kapellplatz. Next comes the "Fötzeli rain" (Fötzeliregen), consisting of millions of pieces of shredded paper raining down on the assembled throng, having been hurled into the air by a firework-like installation. This marks the start of the musical cacophony (Guggenmusig) played by the Guggen musicians. The revellers dance and the alleys vibrate to the rhythms.
Sample traditional carnival specialities, such as Fritschipastete (vol-au-vents), Chneublätze (wafers), Schenkeli (pastries), Zigerkrapfen (goat's cheese fritters) and Kafi Träsch (coffee with eau-de-vie). Schmotzige Donnschtig (Fat Thursday, the start of carnival) used to be the last day animals could be slaughtered for their meat before the commencement of the 40-day Lenten fast. Carnival was therefore a time for consuming perishable foods such as meat, eggs, butter and fat. This is what gave rise to Lucerne's hearty specialities. Join in the feasting to be able to survive the exhausting period of carnival!
Two in the afternoon of Schmotzige Donnschtig sees the setting off of the Fritschi parade, while the Wey Guild's parade is on the following Monday (Güdismontag). The grand final parade, the Monstercorso of the united guilds, takes place at 7.30 p.m. the day after (Güdisdienstag – Güdis Tuesday). Aside from these major parades, stages located here and there showcase the various ensembles of Guggen musicians. Sway to the rhythmical sounds and admire the creative costumes and floats. A good place to see some open-air theatre is on Sternenplatz in front of the Stadtkeller restaurant.
Evenings find small ensembles of musicians entertaining diners with their playing. Amongst the best-known musical eateries are the Restaurant Ente, Bistro du Théatre and Doorzögli. The legendary Wilder Mann restaurant receives a completely fresh makeover for carnival, while the Nix in der Laterne is redecorated after the revellers have gone home.
The Lucerne carnival is famous for its fantastical costumes. No less admired are the masks (Grend), which the enthusiastic revellers handcraft for themselves. Every year, the Society of Mask Devotees of the City of Lucerne organises a "beauty pageant" featuring the best masks: make your way to the Hotel Schweizerhof on Güdis Monday in time to catch the most eye-catching ones. The event starts at 8 p.m. The prize for the best example (Goldig Grend – Golden Mask) is awarded at midnight.