The Fasnacht Series: A Visit to a Cliquekeller

A week before Fasnacht, we had the opportunity to visit a Cliquekeller. 

A Cliquekeller is a clubhouse of sorts for a Clique (group), and is usually housed in a cellar of a nondescript building. A Cliquekeller is not usually easy to find, and intentionally so, as the planning and preparation of each Clique’sSujet” (theme) for the upcoming Fasnacht is kept secret until the day itself.

There are, however, occasions when the Cliquekeller opens its doors to outsiders, namely during Fasnacht itself, when food and drinks are sold as part of the festivities. Sometimes the Cliquekeller is rented out for private functions, as a means of earning side income for the Clique. 

At other times, the Cliquekeller is opened for a small group of outsiders and a member of the Clique gives a brief presentation about the history and traditions of Fasnacht. Mr. TH’s office organised such an event, and we managed to sign up for it.

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There, we settled ourselves down with drinks and cheese tarts as Kevin, a member of the Verschnuuffer Clique, gave us an insider’s view on Morgenstreich, Cortège, Guggemusik and other traditions behind Fasnacht. 

He explained the meanings behind some of the Baseldütsch terms used in the celebrations, such as Drummeli and Bummel, and taught us how to distinguish the different participating groups: the Cliques with their piccolos and drums, the Alte Tante in their horsedrawn carriages, the Guggemusik bands with their slightly off-key but catchy tunes, and a few others.

We learnt the Do’s and Don’ts of the festival;

  • Do try and follow the cliques as they wander through the streets and backalleys of the city;
  • Don’t throw confetti at the participants;
  • Don’t pick confetti off the street (euww!);
  • Don’t use flash photography during Morgenstreich – very important! (It blinds the participants);
  • Do try and purchase a Blaggedde (carnival badge) and display it prominently on your jacket. The funding of Fasnacht is partly through the sale of the Blaggedde, and although purchasing it isn’t compulsory, it’s a nice gesture. It’s generally assumed that a Blaggedde-wearing spectator won’t have confetti dumped over their head, but that isn’t always the case.
  • Do be a good sport if you do get confetti dumped over your head, and into your collar. It’s harmless and in good spirit.
  • Don’t get in the way of the participants when they’re making their way through the procession;
  • Do admire the masks and drums of the participants when they’re set on the floor outside restaurants and cafés; don’t touch them;
  • Don’t be a rowdy spectator or sing bawdy songs. That is never appreciated. In fact, unlike many carnivals, the spectators are usually well behaved and orderly. This is Switzerland, after all. Haha.

Kevin also explained to us the importance of the “Sujet” (theme). Every year, a Clique will have a different Sujet, which is decided by the members of the Clique. The costumes, masks and lantern are designed to reflect the Sujet. The Sujet may carry a political or social message, or it may just be some random theme. Sujets can be comical, satirical, serious or melancholic. Most Cliques also print out poems on coloured pieces of paper, called “Zeedel”, which are handed out to spectators. The poems are meant to explain more about the Sujet. Unfortunately everything is in Baseldütch, so unless you’re a local, you won’t be able to fully appreciate the message. But by looking at the costumes and the lanterns, you can sort of guess what the main theme is.

An example of a "Zeedel". Unfathomable.

An example of a “Zeedel”, written in unfathomable Baselduetch.

By the end of the evening, we left with tummies filled with cheese and onion tarts, and with a greater appreciation of what locals deem the three most beautiful days of the year. 

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