Carnival is a pre-Lent festival widely celebrated in Germany, Switzerland and Austria. The customs and traditions that surround the event vary from country to country – however, most are rooted in long-founded pagan customs, with the unfolding events and parades held at the end of January and early February.
The Munich Carnival lasts for only three days, with the city letting loose on Sunday, Monday and ending the festivities on Shrove Tuesday. On Sunday the celebrations take place around Marienplatz, with large street parties, parades and crowds dressed head-to-toe in wild and wonderful costumes. Staying central and close to this part of Munich will put you right in the thick of the day-to-night parties. On Shrove Tuesday, carnival reaches its climax at Viktualienmarkt, with the ‘Dance of the good women of the market.’ This lively event features women in traditional dress dancing and singing in the traditional market square, for the elation for the surrounding crowds.
During this time more than 800 balls are held throughout Munich. The largest of these will host over a thousand people and most of them are fancy dress, with masquerade themes and a lavish atmosphere. However, classic gala balls in dinner jackets and dress also take hold of the city during this time, and known as ‘Schwarz-Weiß-Bälle‘. To get a good first impression of these opulent affairs, visit one of the big traditional balls in the Deutsches Theater, in the Löwenbräukeller, or in the Hotel Bayerischer Hof. In parallel with the carnival and masked balls, there are also over 1,000 events and dances that take place in Munich – some even last several weeks and are often organized by major theatres and breweries in the city.
While Munich’s carnival is relatively subdued compared to its cousins in Cologne and Düsseldorf, it does offer the atmospheric joy of carnival season and manageable crowds. Here visitors with families and children can let their hair down with the locals, and soak in this truly unique Germanic tradition during the lead into the fasting season of Lent.