Historical extreme flooding events in central European river catchments caused high socioeconomic impacts. Previous studies have analysed single events in detail but have not focused on a robust analysis of the underlying extreme precipitation events in general, as historical events are too rare for a robust assessment of their generic dynamical causes. This study tries to fill this gap by analysing a set of realistic daily 100-year large-scale precipitation events over five major European river catchments with the help of operational ensemble prediction data from the ECMWF. The dynamical conditions during such extreme events are investigated and compared to those of more moderate extreme events (20 to 50 year); 100-year precipitation events are generally associated with an upper-level cutoff low over central Europe in combination with a surface cyclone southeast of the specific river catchment. The 24 h before the event is decisive for the exact location of this surface cyclone, depending on the location and velocity of the upper-level low over western Europe. The difference between 100-year and more moderate extreme events varies from catchment to catchment. Dynamical mechanisms such as an intensified upper-level cutoff low and surface cyclone are the main drivers distinguishing 100-year events in the Oder and Danube catchments, whereas thermodynamic mechanisms such as a higher moisture supply in the lower troposphere east of the specific river catchment are more relevant in the Elbe and Rhine catchments. For the Weser and Ems catchment, differences appear in both dynamical and thermodynamic mechanisms.