In Basel the carnival, or Fasnacht, as it is known locally, starts on the first Monday after Ash Wednesday. In 2009 the dates of the carnival are from the second to the fourth of March. This comparatively shorter carnival, lasting only seventy-two hours, is rated in the list of the top 50 local events in all of Europe. This beautiful little Swiss city and its carnival are best enjoyed strolling through the quaint streets. Here are a few tips to help you enjoy the unique parades in the Basel Carnival.
1. Go to bed early the night before the first day of the carnival
The most important tip that I, or any Basel Fasnacht veteran, can give you is to go to bed early the night before the first day of the carnival because exactly at four in the morning is when the most spectacular event of the carnival begins. Well before daylight breaks, with shouts of ‘Morgestraich vorwärts marsch!’ all the lights in the city are switched off. With electricity shut down the only break in darkness comes from the flickering stars in the sky and the swinging lanterns below. This is the event of Morgenstraich where thousands gather from Basel and its suburbs in groups called cliques. Everyone is in costume and the sketches performed are mostly satirical, their main themes drawing from events of the year.
2. How to enjoy the ‘Gugge’ concerts
‘Gugge’ concerts are not just concerts, though they begin as that. They quickly become a kind of musical parade in which groups of musicians playing ‘Gugge’ music on brass bands disperse through the city. This procession continues well past the midnight hour. One way to enjoy this parade would be to sit at the various restaurants these groups visit on their way. But if you have your walking shoes on and you really want to enjoy this unique concert follow any one of the groups in their stroll through the streets.
3. Don’t put your sneakers away just yet.
There is still the ‘Gässle’ which is again a very different parade. People wander through the streets and narrow alleyways of the Old Town, following musical troupes consisting of Piccolo players and drummers. Does this sound a trifle boring? Participate in it to understand the real hypnotic quality of this march.
There are the usual processions with costumes and floats here too but in this blog I wanted to concentrate on parades you can find only here, parades in which you are not just a spectator but also a participant. Another tip: if you can, make friends with a local to be able to understand this carnival that is deeply embedded in local customs, events. Don’t forget to eat some of the delicious Mehlsuppe and the onion pies and cheese pies – traditional carnival foods that are served all day and night at restaurants.
Photo of the Carnival of Basel by Allie Caulfield