mardi gras in germany

German Mardi Gras Traditions: Celebrating Fasching, Karneval and Fastnacht

Carnival or Mardi Gras is a time for celebration, dancing, feeling free to be oneself (behind a mask) and participating in fabulous parades. Germany is no exception, with its wonderful variety of regional Mardi Gras festivities. 

I grew up with the marvelous African drumming and parades of Uruguayan carnival and also attended Mardi Gras celebrations around the world.

If you’re interested in joining the German Mardi Gras, you can learn more about its traditions below.


Fastnacht, Karneval and Fasching

mardi gras events in germany

Different regions all over Germany and beyond have their own carnival traditions, and they even call their Mardi Gras celebrations by different names:

  • Fastnacht or Fasnacht — in large parts of South-West Germany, Switzerland, Luxembourg and Liechtenstein
  • Karneval — in large parts of North-West Germany
  • Fasching — in South-East Germany, Berlin and Austria

Based on Catholic tradition, carnival is a season of rich meals, partying and fun before the fast of Lenten (Lent) begins. In medieval times, “Lenten” was also a time for performing plays, called Fastnachtsspiele.

Earlier, pagan carnival celebrations in Germany symbolized the driving out of winter’s evil spirits, with the aid of masks to scare them away. Fastnacht comes directly from this tradition.

In Köln, Karneval features masked jesters who criticize politicians. This tradition can be traced back to after the French Revolution, when the French dominated the Rhineland. Back then, Mardi Gras was the only time Germans could safely mock the French leaders, using their masks to hide their identities. 

Essential Days of Mardi Gras

Regardless of where they are in Germany, most Mardi Gras events have a similar schedule, leading up to Ash Wednesday: 

German Name
English Name
Thursday before Ash WednesdayWeiberfastnachtWomen’s Carnival DayStart of celebrations, with women leading the festivities
Friday and Saturday before Ash WednesdayKarneval Friday and SaturdayLocal parades, balls, and costume parties all over
Sunday before Ash WednesdayTulpensonntagCarnival SundayFamily-friendly parades featuring colorful floats and lively music
Monday before Ash WednesdayRosenmontagRose MondayHighlight of the carnival season, with the most elaborate parades
Tuesday before Ash WednesdayFastnacht DienstagShrove Tuesday or Mardi Gras DayFinal day of celebration before the Lenten season
Ash Wednesday
AschermittwochDay after Mardi Gras
End of the Carnival season and beginning of Lent

By Ash Wednesday, the mood is already more solemn, with people having ashes placed on their foreheads at church. This marks the end of Mardi Gras celebrations.

Garman Mardi Gras Schedule 2025-2027

The carnival season for Mardi Gras is supposed to kick off every November 11, but there is seldom much going on before January, and February is the time of all the traditional parades.


Main events — Mar. 2-4

Aschermittwoch — Mar. 5

Weiberfastnacht — Feb. 27

Rosenmontag — Mar. 3


Main events — Feb. 15-17

Aschermittwoch — Feb. 18


Main events — Feb. 7-9

Aschermittwoch — Feb. 10

Note: In some parts of Switzerland, Fastnacht is celebrated after Lent has begun. For example, in Basel, the 2025 celebrations will span 72 hours, from 4:00 a.m. on Monday, March 10th until 4:00 a.m. on Thursday, March 13th.

Mardi Gras Traditions in Germany

1. Bavarian Fasching — The München Parade

The main Fasching celebrations in München take place around Marienplatz square and Viktualienmarkt, but there are Faschingball parties and music all over town.

The highlight is the Sunday parade of the Damischen Ritter (Daft Knights). This Faschingsumzug (Carnival Parade) is lead by Duke Kasimir and his retinue of knights, clowns, colorful floats and marching bands. It takes place along Herzog-Wilhelm-Straße with a spectacular after party at Hofbräuhaus around 2:30 p.m.

Insider’s tips: Partying in München takes place all over the pedestrian areas during the three days of the main Fasching celebrations, from Sunday till Tuesday. Revelers and jesters take over the streets and the city becomes one big party.

Make sure to bring black or white clothes to be able to attend one of the famous Schwarz-Weiß-Bälle, which are dance events where you’re required to wear either all white or all black.

Don’t forget to try the delicious Krapfen, München’s version of the doughnut.

Another interesting celebration, similar to the München parade, is the Sunday parade in Würzburg—it is the biggest in Bavaria!

2. Fastnacht — The Rottweil Parade

Known as the Narrensprung (Fool’s Leap), the Rottweil parade is the most traditional in all of Germany. There are, in fact, three different parades in Rottweil, one on Rosenmontag at 8:00 a.m. and two on Fastnachtsdienstag, at 8:00 a.m. and 2:00 p.m.

Parade participants wear wooden carved masks, an ancient Fastnacht tradition. During the 8 a.m. parade, 4,000 fools march towards the medieval Black Gate, where they dance to the popular Fool’s March tune, hop on one leg and cry out “Hu Hu Hu!”

There are seven different Fastnacht characters, each represented by a characteristic mask. One of the most popular is Federahannes, a jester with large curved teeth, dressed in a goose feather costume. He carries a pole with a perfumed calf’s tail, and he vaults through the cobblestones while dangling the tail in front of people, making faces and purring.

Insider’s tips: Masks and costumes are often handed down from generation to generation in Rottweil, so, if you get a hold of one of them, handle it with care. On Rosenmontag, a band of trumpet players awakens the city by marching through the streets at 5 a.m. If you are not inclined to wake that early, be mindful of where you are staying!

Basel’s Fastnacht is the biggest carnival celebration in all of Switzerland. Because it starts after the end of other carnival celebrations in the region, it can be a great option to prolong your German Mardi Gras experience. The Morgestraich parade is particularly beautiful since it takes place at night with lanterns. 

3. Karneval in Köln

Karneval is a time of masked balls and merry parades all over Köln.

The festivities kick off with Weiberfastnacht, one of the highlights.

On that day, women dress in fancy gowns while going about their in fancy gowns. They gather at the Alter Marktwhere the Prince, the Peasant and the Virgin, the main Karneval figures, officially open the celebrations. At 13:30, the historical play “Jan un Griet” is performed at Severinstor, and afterwards a procession with dance and music heads towards the Alter Markt.

Over the following days, there are masked balls, streets full of Karneval figures known as Jecken, and numerous parties everywhere. To get in the mood, you can always start your day with a Frühschoppen (early morning drink) and head to the lively Neumarkt.

The Carnival Sunday parade takes over the city center from 10:30 p.m onward, but the most spectacular parade is the official Rosenmontag parade at 10:30 a.m. complete with Kamelle (candy), Strüßjer (bouquets of flowers), Bützje (pecks, little closed mouth kisses between strangers) and over one million elegantly dressed attendees.

On Karneval Tuesday, there are parades all over Köln’s suburbs, crowned by the burning of Nubbel (life-size straw figure). When Ash Wednesday finally arrives, it is time to soothe your hangover at a local pub with a traditional fish dinner.

The biggest Karneval parade is the one in Köln, but Düsseldorf, Mainz, Trier and Koblenz have great street parties too.

Insider’s tips: There is great rivalry between Düsseldorf and Köln.

The Köln Karneval cry is “Alaaf,” while in Düsseldorf it is “Helau.” Try to not get them mixed up! If you are in Köln, do not forget to try the typical Kölsch beer. If you are not a fan of stranger pecks, stay clear of the parades altogether (or up your drink minimum!).

4. Büttenreden

The Büttenrede is one of the most traditional art forms of German Mardi Gras. They are performed during parades and shows all over Germany and are written specially for each year’s celebrations.

As a foreigner, understanding Büttenreden requires knowledge of German current affairs and an advanced command of the language.

  • Origin — The Büttenrede is connected to the medieval custom of Rügerecht (right to criticize), which allowed commoners to criticize powerful men during Fastnacht without fear of retaliation.
  • Style — A Büttenrede is a rhyming poem with a tight verse structure. It usually makes humorous or sarcastic comments about the flaws of politicians, government and socierty as a whole.
  • Famous Büttenredner (Büttenrede artists) — Over the years, popular artists have written many unforgettable Büttenreden. The most celebrated Büttenredner include Maria Heinrich Hoster, Willibert Pauels, Dieter Brandt and Wolfgang Düringer, among many others.

Basic German Mardi Gras Glossary

Here’s a recap of essential German Mardi Gras words: 

  • Aschermittwoch — Ash Wednesday, the day Lent begins, after the carnival.
  • Fasching , Fastnacht , Karneval  — Carnival has a different name in different regions. In regions that were settled by Romans, it’s called Karneval, while non-Roman areas have Fasching and Fastnacht. Fastnacht is also celebrated in Austria, German Switzerland and Luxembourg.
  • Die Büttenrede — The Carnival rhyming speech, usually referring to politics and current events with a touch of humor and irony
  • Alaaf! — Carnival greeting in the Köln dialect.
  • Helau! — Carnival greeting in Düsseldorf.
  • Der Fastelabend — The last Thursday before the beginning of Fastnacht, also known as Schmutziger Donnerstag (dirty Thursday).
  • Die Schwarz-Weiß-Bälle — The black and white balls popular in München.
  • Die Weiberfastnacht — The women’s carnival takes place on Fastelabend. It is a day for women to play pranks on men, for example, cutting off their ties.

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As you can see, there is a Mardi Gras party for everyone in Germany and beyond.

You can opt for honoring traditions that date back to the Middle Ages, attending a fancy ball or just drinking beer with masked merrymakers starting in the early morning.

Germans know how to party, and on Mardi Gras they do it in style.

Bring out your mask, your jester’s pole, your Karneval cry and keep up the merrymaking till the straw man burns and the springtime starts to show its lovely face.

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