“Die drei scheenschte Dääg”, or “the three most wonderful days” (of the year).
That’s how locals describe Fasnacht, the Swiss version of carnival – and one of the most important events of the year in Basel.
For three days beginning Monday after Ash Wednesday, normal life is suspended and the city is filled with weird and colourful costumes, loud music fills the air, and the streets are laden with confetti. More than 12,000 Baslers of all ages participate, and even more line the streets to watch.
Fasnacht starts very early on Monday morning with “Morgenstreich”. At exactly 4am in the morning, all the city lights are switched off and the “cliques” (groups) wander through the darkened town with their lanterns. They march to the tune of their piccolos and drums till dawn.
Later in the day – at exactly 1.30pm actually – the “Cortege” (main parade) begins. During this event, the 12,000 or so masked participants parade on foot or on wagons through the city centre, displaying their “Sujets” (theme) through their costumes, lanterns and poems printed on sheets of paper, which are handed out to spectators. During this procession, you hear not only piccolo and drum music, but also the “Guggemusik” of brass bands (also masked and costumed). “Rappli” (confetti), oranges, flowers, sweets – and sometimes, vegetables – are thrown into the open hands of the spectators as the parade through the city. The parade is repeated at the same time on Wednesday.
On Tuesday, there is a similar parade, but not as crowded or as loud. This is a time for children to dress up and wander the streets (with adults, of course) while playing instruments.
On Tuesday evening, the lanterns are lit up and displayed on the Münsterplatz, and the Guggemusik bands gather at several points in the city to play their deafening but somehow catchy tunes.
There is a related event in neighbouring Liestal called the “Chienbäse” (wooden broom) parade, which takes place on the evening of Sunday before Morgenstreich. This is a unique and spectacular event, where wagons stacked with tonnes of burning wood are led through the gate of the city’s old towers, and where the flames rise several stories high!
In my next few posts, I will try and share the sights and sounds of this year’s Fasnacht with you. I won’t promise to give you an extensive or exhaustive coverage of the events, but I will share the ones I went to.
So until then, stay tuned!