Fasnacht 2013

Fasnacht. It was all anyone talked about when we moved here over a month ago.

“Are you going to Fasnacht?”
“Have you heard about Fasnacht?”
“You’re just in time for Fasnacht!”

Dan and I felt it only right that we should check out this annual event for ourselves and see what the fuss is all about. Basel’s Fasnacht is essentially the rest of the world’s “Carnival”, but held a week later. I admit that religious holidays and events often confuse me and this is another one of those. As far as I was concerned, it was time to have a party!

Here are some links to help give you some background on the event. Some might be in German and will need to be translated to get the full effect:

NYC Ex-Pats group

Basel’s own page

Basel Fasnacht Committee

Wiki Page

While Basel holds their party a week later than most, the towns around Basel stick with tradition. This lead to quite a few “pre-Fasnacht” sightings. This was good for me, as it gave me an idea of what to expect, even though the scale was far off.

After the riotous events in Liestal for the Chienbäse, we were prepared for the somber and hopefully roomier Morgenstreich. The alarm went off at 3:30am and I dragged Dan out into the dark cold morning. It was a quick 15 minute walk to Marktplatz, where we decided we’d watch the events from. It was eerie, as people streamed out of the darkness from all directions in small groups, all heading quietly for the same destination.

We found a decent place to stand and wait. As promised – at exactly 4am – every single light in Basel’s old city went out. Complete darkness took over – except for the lanterns. The marchers had illuminated lanterns on their heads, or held them up high on sticks, or pushed massive lit artwork on carts. All of this was accompanied by the sound of drums and piccolos, the music drifting through the night.

There are two Cortège routes, each one going in the opposite direction, sometimes meeting where the streets intersect briefly. The route was long, extending throughout Basel’s old city and across the river into Kleinbasel, Basel’s extension formed in the 1200’s when the first permanent bridge across the Rhine was built. Tonight, a steady stream of light came across the bridge and the cacophony of sound echoed off of the buildings.

Because of the darkness, I found photographing the procession difficult. But I did manage to get some photos, and short video footage of the 4am start. I’m really bad at taking videos, and have yet to look into video editing software, so please be kind when watching mine.

Morgenstreich start

Dan had left me to go back to bed, but I hung out for a while longer. I caught this clique alone on one of the small back streets

The bands are called “cliques” and work together throughout the year, practicing the music and making the elaborate costumes and floats. Each clique has it’s own restaurant base that they meet in, sometimes the group is big enough to have their own tables decorated with their clique name and decorations. After a parade route has been completed, the cliques headed for their base and parked their stuff on the street outside. I walked down many streets where brightly lit lanterns sat outside, surrounded by drums, masks and costumes while the owners were inside warming up with soup and beer.

This is one such parked lantern:


So that was Morgenstreich, which now left three full days of celebrations to go! I went back to bed for a little bit, but made sure to be back in Marktplatz for the 1:30 start of the first Procession. Even though the crowds weren’t horribly thick, I managed to find a window ledge to stand on in order to hopefully get some good views of the marchers. I took a lot of photos. I put some here, but the entire collection can be found on my Smugmug page.

I’m sure that there is some sort of plan for this procession, but I couldn’t discern it. Cliques sat on the sidewalk for an hour, eventually woven into the current flow of marchers. Other cliques came down small passageways and worked their way into the parade. Most cliques came from my right and continued in front of me, but others would turn left instead, going down some other street. It was chaos, but enjoyable.

Detailed lantern

Faces of all kinds

Many cliques had a political statement to make

And some were just there to have fun

Waggis handing out sweets and treats – and confetti!

Some very creative ideas

The throwing of confetti is rumored to have begun in Basel, but there is no real proof of it. However, the Basel marchers really do love their confetti! It is common for a Waggis to hold out a treat and when someone reaches for it, his other hand comes out with a heavy shower of colored paper. Confetti cannons were common and even baskets on sticks were employed to reach viewers further away from the floats. Everyone enjoyed the attention, knowing that it is all part of the fun

Coming out of the “confetti bathtub”

Handing out items from a float – note that leeks, carrots, onions, oranges and pudding mixes were among the items tossed to the crowd!

It is also interesting that while each clique may follow a theme, each mask is made individually by hand. There is no running to the local “Halloween Superstore” and buying up a dozen bee masks. This point is illustrated well by the bees – take a careful look: each face is different.

The music this afternoon was just as chaotic as the morning. A group might be only half a dozen members big, which meant that the group behind them was very close. Both continued to play their own songs and the tempos and rhythms rarely went well together. In addition, today’s procession included brass instruments, giving the music a much broader range.

Here is one of the earlier musical groups. It appeared that just because they’ve been working on this for a year doesn’t necessarily mean that they’ve perfected it.

Heralding back to its roots, a few horse and buggies made their way through the route as well. I admired the horses for their tolerance of the noise and visual chaos!

One of the larger groups I saw was “Free Willy Riot”. This was an obvious take on the “Free Pussy Riot” headlines that had come up earlier in the year. They even had a live band playing amplified music along the route. This was the only one of its kind that I saw all day, so I can only assume that they got some sort of special permission for it.

This Procession was much more dedicated to the kids along the sidelines than the ones in the parade itself. They reached eagerly each time they saw that sweets were being tossed. And unlike American parades where bystanders obey the “curb rule” and leave the bands and floats the entire street, here they crowded directly up to the floats themselves. Often, a float had two “guides” at the front of it, gently pushing people back to make room for the tractor.

And not just the kids were enjoying themselves

The variety and creativity was really awesome to see

This group was interesting in that they had probably the least “creative” outfits, but yet they were still very fun. I’m sure that there might have been a political or social message, but it was lost on me.

I had been standing on the window sill for 1 1/2 hours and knew that I still hadn’t seen everything that there was to see. I crawled down and wandered among the Waggis and crowds and parked floats, eventually making my way to emptier streets. I leave you with a few parting shots.

And to think that there are two more days to go!


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