This week in Basel it was Fasnacht!
Fasnacht is the spring festival in Basel – it’s a bit like Mardis Gras, and takes place a week after Shrove Tuesday. It lasts exactly 72 hours, running from 4am on the Monday to 4am on the Thursday. It’s INSANE. Some Fasnacht facts (Fas-facts?) I’ve been told over the last few days which I can’t confirm but sound good:
- 1 in 7 Baslers is an active “Fasnachtler” – Fasnachtlers are members of the marching bands which patrol the city in full costume throughout the festival.
- Some people stay up for the WHOLE 72 hours. (how???)
- Fasnacht is supposed to “chase away the ghosts of the winter” – the sun has been out in Basel this week, so clearly it works.
The official Fasnacht website doesn’t offer a lot of clues as to its origins, other than that, “the terrible earthquake of 1356 which destroyed large parts of the city and many official archives”, so there’s no real record of the festival’s beginning.
The profits from these badges help to fund Fasnacht, so it’s bad form to be seen without one. You can even buy a gold version! The design this year is based on the new tower at Roche, where I work. A surprising choice, as not all the locals are big fans of the tower; it’s set to be the tallest building in Switzerland when it’s completed, so it’s pretty big on the Basel skyline.
Before Basel Fasnacht is Chienbäse, which takes place in Liestal. “Cheinbäse” is the name for the bundles of pinewood which are traditionally set alight and carried through the old cobbled streets of the town.
These seem pretty impressive. Then you see the bonfires:
It gets pretty warm! The procession gets on for about an hour, with the bonfires getting taller and hotter until the whole street is filled with smoke. This happens the Sunday night before Fasnacht begins in Basel, so I left smelling of woodsmoke and opted to stay up all night for the 4am start.
Fasnacht in Basel begins with Morgenstraich.
At 4am on the Monday of Fasnacht, all the lights in the city are switched off, and the laterns belonging to the various “cliques” are illuminated. They then parade around the city into the morning, playing the traditional Fasnacht tune on piccolos.
The next day, things get very different. Large brass marching bands assemble to play Guggenmusik, often discordant versions of pop songs or standards (I heard the Pink Panther Theme A LOT). Waggis appear, showering everyone with confetti, flowers, and increasingly strange gifts – on separate occasions, I saw fruit, cuddly toys, scarves, cakes, lighters, cans of cider, leeks, potatoes and bulbs of garlic handed out. In my bag at the end of the day I had sheets and sheets of stickers, a white rose, a bag of popcorn and a lemon.
Many of the costumes and lanterns featured jokes, mostly about politics or social issues. Being written in the Swiss German dialect, the majority of these went right over my head. However, I think everyone can appreciate this topless Putin costume:
After an exhausting weekend, I was back to work on Tuesday – no 72 hour partying for me. Despite the rain, I can definitely see why the locals call Fasnacht die drey scheenschte Dääg, or “the three most beautiful days”.