Wednesday, February 10, 2016

Celebrating Fasnacht in Basel, Switzerland

Sleachmour Adventures, Basel Fasnacht

It's Fasnacht in Switzerland! Late January through February, Protestant areas of the country celebrate the pre-Lenten festival season known as Fasnacht (the Swiss-German version of Carnival). Parades of costumed children, grotesquely-masked adults and "Cliques" of piccolos and drums parade through streets in towns large and small, passing out candy and dumping loads of paper confetti.

Morgenstreigh, photo courtesy of news.ch
Morgenstreich, photo courtesy of news.ch
The best and largest of the many celebrations is in Basel. It begins with the Morgenstreich, "without light," parade, at 4 a.m. on the Monday following Ash Wednesday. Every light in the city is turned off for the parade of glowing floats and lanterns. Fasnacht continues for 72 hours, during which parades and festivities fill the Basel Altstadt. After Morgenstreich, there are two more "official" Fasnacht parades, or Corteges. Last year, the Sleachmours took the 40 minute train from Zurich to Basel for Monday afternoon's parade.


Sleachmour Adventures, Fasnacht, pre-parade
Top: drums and masks waiting outside a pub
Bottom: a Clique marching through the Altstadt
Monday was rainy and dreary but we braved the weather and arrived quite early by train in order to spend a bit of time wandering the streets soaking up the atmosphere. Fasnacht is a city-wide holiday in Basel, so businesses were closed with the exceptions of a few bakeries, cafes and rowdy pubs full of costumed paraders enjoying a beer between marches. Every few minutes, a lone piccolo troupe (known as a Clique) would pipe their way down the street. Their tinny marches echoed off buildings and down alleyways long after they passed.

After a warm lunch and break from the weather at the Manor self-service restaurant, we found a less-crowded spot on the long parade route. We also purchased an official Basel Fasnact Badge - a must for parade participants and observers alike. The city funds the massive festival with the proceeds of badge sales and, more importantly, your treatment during the interactive parade is highly dependent on whether or not you display this year's badge!

And the parade kicked off!

Sleachmour Adventures, Fasnacht, Drummers in the Fasnacht Parader


Sleachmour Adventures, Fasnacht, Colorful Float






The costumes and masks are amazing. The masks are calling Larve and are hand-crafted especially for the parade. Costume and parade float themes are typically satirical and often political. We understood a few (those with obvious pictures and costumes were easiest), but many were written in the local dialect of Swiss-German and were quite far over our head. Luckily understanding is not required to enjoy.

Sleachmour Adventures, Fasnacht, Masked Paraders

Sleachmour Adventures, Fasnacht, Riding on the Float
Sometimes wearing a pin means you get to ride in the float with a gorilla!
Let's go back to the Fasnacht Badge. I mentioned audience treatment being dependent on wearing a badge. What does that mean? You've surely noticed the loads of confetti on the parade route. Have you may also noticed that many of the floats and Fasn├Ąchtlers (parade participants) are carrying flowers, fruit, vegetables? Items are handed kindly or maniacally chucked into the crowds of watchers. Pin-wearers may receive flowers, oranges or candy, while those without are pelted by carrots or leeks and subjected to baskets of confetti (R├Ąppli in Swiss-German) being shoved down the backs of their jackets. I'm not even kidding. But beware, even pin-wearers are at risk of a bit of confetti harassment! We're still finding bits of paper confetti in pockets and shoes a year later.

According to some sources, Basel Fasnacht began the tradition of throwing confetti!

Sleachmour Adventures, Fasnacht, Flowers for Badges
A badge-wearer receives flowers from this parade float.

Sleachmour Adventures, Fasnacht, Beautiful Masks


Sleachmour Adventures, Fasnacht, Scary Masks
Children also participate in the Basel Fasnacht parade. Their costumes are simpler, sometimes they play instruments and they are often handing out paper copies of poems and stories. We took one from most of the young paraders - how could we say no to such cuties? But the poems were written in the Basel dialect of Swiss-German and we couldn't understand very much of it!
Sleachmour Adventures, Fasnacht, Kid Cliques
Kid Cliques!
Sleachmour Adventures, Fasnacht, Cliques

Sleachmour Adventures, Fasnacht, Large Noses

Sleachmour Adventures, Fasnacht, And More Large Noses


Sleachmour Adventures, Fasnacht, Floats with Treats

Sleachmour Adventures, Fasnacht, Train Home
Our haul of Fasnacht parade goodies.
Not pictured: loads of fruit and a few
random vegetables.
The parade lasted for HOURS. It's a huge route and paraders slowly loop through an inner ring and an outer ring. We moved a few times to ensure we caught as much of the parade as possible. Once we were satisfied that we'd seen enough, we made our way back to the Basel Hauptbahnhof for the trip back home.

Want to plan your own visit to Basel's Fasnacht? Here are a few tips and links to help.
- The Fasnacht Comite has a website available in English. It has great information including each year's parade schedule and route maps.
- Trains run frequently between the Zurich and Basel Hauptbahnhofs and there are additional early-morning trains that arrive in time for Morganstreich! Details from SBB are here.
- Once you arrive, buy a badge! Vendors walk around the pre-parade crowds selling them, but once the parade begins, they're tricker to find. The badges range in price based on the metal. We purchased the least expensive pin at 8chf. Well-worth the flowers, candy and fun!

Have you been to Fasnacht? Share your tips in the comments!

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