Basler Fasnacht or Carnival Basel

Celebrating the most beautiful three days in the year of a real Bebbi
Sunday, March 5, 2017 to Saturday, March 11, 2017

You may know the Carnival in Rio de Janeiro and Venice but have you ever heard of the Carnival Basel? Because of the low temperatures, people are obviously less permissive but certainly not less illustrious. Basel is celebrating one of the most extensive and intensive carnival of all Switzerland and probably all of Europe. Only people who have attended this spectacle, know how creative and colorful the Bebbi are celebrating. However, there are a few things different from all other carnivals. Bebbi, for example, is the way people from Basel call themselves. As a child and teenager, I was utterly fascinated by the spectacle until I lost my interest during puberty. After many years of abstinence, this year, I have attended most of the activities. Thanks to my guest from California, I could experience it through the eyes of a foreigner.

Understanding the history and origin of the carnival

Without reciting from Wikipedia and other sources, we need to understand this Christian festival first. Every carnival has two major intentions and the Carnival Basel is no exception there. The first cause is an excessive indulgence before fasting, people are drinking and eating a lot - for the last time before Easter. Another major motive is to actively push back the bad winter spirits and embrace the first sunrays of the spring. This is especially visible at the central Swiss carnivals, where people are wearing frightening masks and make a lot of noise. Basically, this is the same in Basel, people are marching in a parade wearing masks and some of them making noise. However, the masks are much more friendly than in other places and the noise is produced by semi-professional bands.

Most common characters and groups to be seen

As mentioned above, some things are truly unique and not seen anywhere else. This also applies to the language, with special expressions only used in the Swiss dialect of Basel. All masks are called “Larve”, confetti referred to as “Räppli” and for the parade, we use the french “Cortege”. The most commonly represented character is the “Waggis” with a huge nose and wild hair, a reference to the French peasants. Their traditional clothing is white-red-blue and inspired by the French tricolor flag. Usually, they stand on a large wagon, throwing oranges, sweets, and confetti into the audience. Another character is the old lady who is riding on a chariot, called “Chaise”, distributing sweets and flowers. Responsible for the noise are two different kinds of bands. “Clique” are much older and play military music with traditional drums and flutes. A bit younger are the “Guggemusig”, a brass band with different kind of drums, percussions, and wind instruments. All those groups chose a yearly topic, mostly political, to criticize and make fun of through their costumes and decoration. Spectators are forced to practice critical reflection.

Important events that define the Carnival Basel

First of all, the Carnival Basel is the latest and starts one week after Ash Wednesday. Liestal, a larger suburb, initiates the carnival with a spectacular parade of burning wood on the day before, called “Chienbäse”. The official start, however, is launched on Monday at 4 am in the city center of Basel, the so-called “Morgestraich”. At this time, all the light is turned off and the Clique are marching through the town, wearing colorful lanterns, playing traditional songs. The two main parades are on Monday and Wednesday afternoon, while the third parade on Tuesday is reserved for children and families. Those three parades combine wagons, chariots and both types of bands. Tuesday evening belongs exclusively to the brass bands, marching through the streets and giving multiple concerts to a raving audience. Another element is the “Schnitzelbangg”, some sort of a troubadour performing political satire through painted posters and cynical, yet appealing rhymes.

Impressions through the virgin eyes of a stranger

This year, I witnessed nearly every single event that is part of the festival. Despite my prior fascination, I have not attended any carnival in many years. As a matter of fact, I have not forgotten any of the traditions but rediscovered my fascination. Especially together with my guest, we observed the wild parades struck with awe. Starting with the burning fire in Liestal, we melted into the cheering crowd and watched the fire pass by, feeling the burn on our cheeks. After a short night, we got up early to attend the official beginning. When all the light went off and the drums and flutes started to play, we had goosebumps! During the main parade, some light rain showers dampened the mood but could not prevent the masses to celebrate. It was a particularly amazing experience, holding firm against the rain together with thousands of other participants. On Tuesday evening, we listened to the music of the brass bands and danced until midnight on the market square. After my guest's departure, I celebrated the end on Wednesday with a befriended family. Walking through narrow alleyways, following bands and listening to the troubadour.

Carnival is literally never really ending in Basel

Even after those three days, it’s not finished, another suburb celebrates carnival on the weekend after. The town of Binningen has a micro version of the parade in Basel. It takes place only two blocks away from my former home. Together with my family, I also attended this parade and revived the good old days. About a decade ago, I even drove a small wagon through Binningen, pulling my younger siblings and their friends, dressed up as Waggis. As a child, I first wanted to play in a band and then become a Waggis on a wagon. By that time, I was too young and only could march on the children’s carnival. Being a rather impatient person, I quickly lost my interest and dedicated my life to another field - the internet and travel!

I’d like to thank my family and friends who attended this year’s Carnival Basel with me.

My waypoints on this journey

Chiembäse Liestal - running with burning bunfires through the narrow gate and city of Liestal
running with burning bunfires through the narrow gate and city of Liestal
Morgestraich Basel - at 4am all the light is turned off and people start marching and playing music
at 4am all the light is turned off and people start marching and playing music
Cortège (Fasnachtsumzug) - only at the Carnival Basel: people dress up as KKK to make a political point
only at the Carnival Basel: people dress up as KKK to make a political point
Basler Fasnacht - celebrating spring during 3 wild days of parades, concerts and feasts
celebrating spring during 3 wild days of parades, concerts and feasts
Guggenkonzert Basel - listening to and walking behind the marching brass bands at the Carnival Basel
listening to and walking behind the marching brass bands at the Carnival Basel
Schissdräckzügli - walking in a small group, mostly with children, along the carnival parade
walking in a small group, mostly with children, along the carnival parade
Clique (Drummle und Pfyffe) - a group of lay musicians marching and playing songs on drums and pipes
a group of lay musicians marching and playing songs on drums and pipes
Schnitzelbangg - listening to troubadour, singing funny satire about Trump and other politics
listening to troubadour, singing funny satire about Trump and other politics
Cliquenkeller - narrow stairs lead down to a hidden world of friendship and happiness
narrow stairs lead down to a hidden world of friendship and happiness
Gässeln in Basel - slowly walking through narrow alleyways and contemplating about life
slowly walking through narrow alleyways and contemplating about life
Binniger Fasnacht - attending the small but still very nice carnival parade in my home town
attending the small but still very nice carnival parade in my home town
Waggis - wild characters with a huge nose, standing on a wagon, distributing sweets
wild characters with a huge nose, standing on a wagon, distributing sweets
Bummelsonntag - closing this year's carnival by marching together with Clique and Guggemusig
closing this year's carnival by marching together with Clique and Guggemusig