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Carnival in Switzerland


Historically, Carnival festivities have helped Europe get through the long dark winter. And the Swiss — so famous for being proper and controlled — really let loose in the city of Luzern. The normally staid city is overtaken by raucous music, surreal parades, and a spirit of anything goes.

Complete Video Script

It seems an unlikely place, but Carnevale is celebrated with gusto and uniqueness in Switzerland, where the locals, often considered the most button-down people in Europe, really let loose.

The epicenter of this midwinter craziness before Lent is the city of Luzern.

Before sunrise, the driving beat of multiple parading bands wakes the city up like a mobile alarm clock. Musicians wearing weird masks and playing loudly, often out of tune, march through the waking town. Today is Mardi Gras. That's French for Fat Tuesday. The same Mardi Gras celebrated in New Orleans. After six days of Carnevale celebrations, this is the climax. Lenten fasting starts tomorrow, but today's for bingeing on all that's fun and tasty. Lots of music, lots of costumes and lots of food. What better time for a little cheese fondue.

After sunrise, the bands forget all that typical Swiss discipline and order. They break up, wandering randomly throughout the town.

The bands play on. The streets are filled with a relaxed vibe of goodwill. Restaurants are packed. Bands spontaneously take the stage and play enthusiastically. A children's parade is a sweet way to train kids to carry on this tradition. Even five-star hotels open their doors and let the partying public celebrate inside.

Somehow, late in the afternoon, the groups reorganize for a long final parade. Band members with famous Swiss stamina keep playing. Themes vary from ancient pagan to political satire and every creative scene in between.

With the end of Fat Tuesday parties, Carnevale celebrations in Luzern and across Europe are finished. After Fat Tuesday comes Ash Wednesday and the party is officially over.