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Swiss street celebrations at Lucerne's crazy Carnival

Now through the night before Ash Wednesday (March 5) in the lovely Swiss city of Lucerne, Carnival (or Fasnacht in Swiss German) is bringing a wildly exuberant sort of Swiss craziness to the streets, alleyways and squares of the canton capital's old town.

Colorful characters roam the streets and party in Lucerne's Old Town in the six-day Fasnacht festival before Lent.
Photos by Ben Davidson/www.bendavidsonphoto.com
A Swiss family joins in on the Carnival fun in Lucerne's Old Town
Photo by Ben Davidson/www.bendavidsonphoto.com

Carnival in Lucerne is a strange, glittering outdoor party, where chaos and merriment reign and strangeness is the norm until Lent, when the party suddenly stops and the streets resume their usual, predictable Swiss civility. Starting on the Thursday before Lent, weird characters in fantastic masks and colorful costumes appear from all corners of the city and weave their way through the alleyways, while masked carnival bands known as Guggenmusigen, a big attraction of the festival, cheerfully blow their instruments in a deafening riot of sound almost non-stop for six days.

The street fest attracts thousands of visitors, plus most of city’s 76,000 inhabitants, and celebrants of all ages participate in the madness. The fun starts starts in the early morning on Schmotzig Donnschtig or “Dirty Thursday” before Lent, when revelers crowd the shore of Lake Lucerne to welcome a strange character known as the “Fritschi Father” and his equally strange family and milk-maid escorts, who arrive by boat to the shore near the city’s Old Town. They then parade to the Town Hall and precisely at 5AM signaling the beginning of Carnival. The party then escalates into a non-stop scene that can only be described as surreal: There are cross-dressers and weird clowns, creepy old men, over-sized dairy maids and hordes of ghoulish creatures whose eerie looks are meant to scare away winter and welcome in spring.

The festivities go on day and night as the locals revel in merriment, drinking, and eating. Roving bands of carnival musician blast out their inescapable cacophony of precision rhythmic drumming and usually out-of-tune brass band pop tunes, not unlike a collegiate halftime band on happy drugs. The street party reaches an apex during an afternoon parade though the confetti-strewn, cobbled streets before shutting off abruptly in the evening, leaving only mountains of trash and some broken glass to collect.

Backgrounder

Lucerne is the capital of the Canton of Lucerne and the capital of the district of the same name. Due to its location on the shore of Lake Lucerne (der Vierwaldstättersee), within sight of Mount Pilatus and Rigi in the Swiss Alps, Lucerne has long been a destination for tourists. One of the city's famous landmarks is the Chapel Bridge (Kapellbrücke), a wooden bridge first erected in the 14th century. Lucerne is the most populous city in central Switzerland. For complete information about Swiss travel, see www.myswitzerland.com.