A Travellerspoint blog

This blog is published chronologically. Go straight to the most recent post.

Liestal: Welcome to the Front Yard of Hell

Or: How (not) to Burn Down Your Town



Since we are in Switzerland already, here is another… Liestal is a pretty, innocent-looking little town in the surroundings of Basel, capital of semi-kanton Basel-Land. Like almost everywhere in Switzerland, the old town has survived the centuries unharmed and preserved its historical charms. A peaceful place, it seems.
However, this is just the facade. Once per year the citizens of Liestal show a different side of their faces and turn their town into the Front Yard of Hell.

Model of a Chienbäse

The carnival is what Liestal is most famous for. They have their parade with masks and colourful costumes and confetti yadda yadda in the afternoon, but after nightfall the real thing starts. The main event of their carnival, called Chienbäse, is a fire parade. "Broomsticks" of burning wood are carried and iron wagons loaded with blazing piles of logs are pulled through the narrow main street of the old town. Scary, and quite something to watch!!!!


Sunday Afternoon Parade


The parade on Sunday afternoon, i.e. Sunday after Ash Wednesday, is a colourful event with many masked groups, some wagons, lanterns and Sujets, Guggemusik bands, drums and flutes. Bags full of Räppli (confetti) and goodies, flowers, oranges are thrown to the spectators - in other words, it is a smaller version of the Cortège parades in Basel, in similar style and with similar masks and outfits. Visiting with children is no problem at all, there are no safety issues (except getting lost in the crowd or being hit by a flying orange). It starts around 2 p.m. and will take a couple of hours to pass through the streets of the town. In bright sunshine everything appears pretty and harmless, but this event is just the prelude for the main one, the "Chienbäse" fire parade after dark. The cliques with the big lanterns will make another appearance in the evening.





The main event in Liestal's Fasnacht is the fire parade, named Chienbäseumzug after the Chienbäse, the burning brooms made from pine logs that are carried through the old town. It takes place on Sunday after Ash Wednesday in the evening, in other words: the night before Morgestraich in Basel. If you don't mind getting little sleep you can easily combine both events.
The cliques with the illuminated big lanterns march at the beginning of the night parade. However, they play a secondary role, unlike in Basel, because everyone is waiting for the fires to come. From afar you can already spot the shine reflected on the facades and in the windows of the houses and tension is rising.


The parade involves around 300 Chienbäse and some 20 iron fire wagons and baskets. It is really something, an archaic spectacle (although it is just 110 years old), scary and impressive at the same time.
The burning brooms are carried on one shoulder. Each of them weighs between 25 and 100 kilograms. A look into the faces of the carriers shows how hard it is to carry them. They wear helmets and protective jackets, but they are nevertheless glad to have some water poured over them by the firemen at every stop. You'd think this is the kind of dare that young guys do, but there are people of all ages participating, men and women.
The most spectacular element of the parade, however, are the fire wagons. There are more than 20 iron wagons loaded with piles of pinewood logs that are set ablaze. They are pulled by 10-16 people and their flames go as high as the roofs of the houses. They cause an immense heat, and when they stop the spectators have to duck and cover up.



The parade enters the old town through the gate underneath the Törli, the medieval gate tower. In between the groups, the fire brigade gives the interior of the passage a thorough shower with three or four hoses to keep the wooden parts wet and prevent any smouldering. One wagon will stop after passing the Törli, be pushed backwards through the gate tower and pulled back in. These are the Törli-Waggis, the one and only group that have the privilege to pass the gate three times instead of only once.

When: Sunday after Ash Wednesday, the evening before the Morgestraich in Basel. Start is at 19.15 - be there in time. Thanks to the date and the frequent train connections it can easily be combined with a visit to Morgestraich in Basel if you don't mind getting little or no sleep that night.
Where: Start and lighting of the brooms and wagons is at the upper end of Burgstraße. The route goes along Burgstraße through the Törli (gate tower), along Rathausstraße, the main street of the old town, then up Rebgasse and Gerbergasse to Gestadeckplatz. See the map on the website of the Chienbäse-Verein.


So far they have not managed to burn down their town, LOL - in fact, Liestal is the fire-safest place in the whole area that night while the rest of the semi-canton would be in deep trouble if a fire broke out elsewhere. All fire brigades from near and far are on duty in Liestal. Every 50 metres there is at least one fireman with the hose ready. They know what they are doing.
I spoke to a lady who works for the municipality and used to be in charge of security. She said they are sure that fire protection works. If anything or anyone started smouldering the fire would be put out within seconds. There is only one apparent danger that they really fear: an outbreak of panic among the spectators. I do not want to imagine the mess that a panic would cause.

Our safe viewpoint

The spectators ought to know what they are doing, too. Ask yourself honestly whether you have the nerves or not to withstand being so close to the flames, among heat and smoke and flying sparks, squeezed into dense crowds in a rather narrow street with a solid house in your back and nowhere to run. If your answer is yes - welcome to the adventure.
If you have the slightest doubt, do not enter the old town but watch the parade at the beginning or the end where there is more room.
Please read the safety rules. Watching in Rathausstraße is not for the faint-hearted. You would not get me in there even if you offered me a million Swiss Francs - no way. Thanks to local friends who organized our visit we were able to watch from a room on the third floor of a house, but even behind closed windows we felt the heat of the fires.

Photo taken from TV transmission

Important Safety Rules

These safety rules are published on the web in German and French. I am translating them into English here, as these are really important to know. Please take them seriously.

Are you ready for this?
Photo taken from TV transmission

- Keep enough distance from the fire wagons and the broom carriers.
- Keep a strict eye on children. Especially with children it is recommended not to watch the parade inside the old town but at the end of the route (Rebgasse, Gerbergasse) where there are fewer crowds and more space.
- Children under 6 may watch the parade only from a distance outside the parade route.
- Children under 12 must be accompanied by a parent.
- Children do not belong on the shoulders of adults. The heat is much worse up there.
- Firecrackers are strictly banned.
- People with health problems or walking difficulties are urgently advised to stay away from the parade route. (Ditto for claustrophobia and fear of fire.)

Are you ready for this?
Photo taken from TV transmission

- Stay on the sidewalks, do not cross the street during the parade (because the ground is full of embers).
- Taking photos in the street is dangerous because it is hard to estimate distances through the lens or display of a camera (and your attention is focused in one direction and you don't see what is going on behind you).
- Make sure you know where to find an escape route in emergency. (Tricky one, because there are very few side lanes and the crowds block everything).
- Attention, flying sparks and embers. No liability for damage. (Wear suitable clothes, natural materials not plastic, an old leather jacket is best. Cover your head and hair.)
Source: http://www.fasnacht-liestal.ch (translation and comments in brackets by yours truly)


Posted by Kathrin_E 00:54 Archived in Switzerland Tagged festival carnival switzerland liestal chienbäse Comments (1)

Offenburg: Witch Food and a Funeral




Tuesday afternoon in Offenburg is nourishing indeed. The main event is called „Hexenfraß“ (Witch Food). The local witch guild feed children and also big people with smoked sausages and rolls. These are thrown down into the crowd from the windows and balconies of the houses around the main square.

This event came into existence in the first carnival season after the end of World War II, during the French occupation. The military governor had banned any street carnival and announced that any witch, any jester who appeared in the streets would immediately be arrested. The witch guild bowed, „Oui, bien sûr, Monsieur!“, but secretly they put their thinking caps on. The governor had said „dans la rue“, but he had said nothing about windows on the first floor…

So the guild members picked up their courage and their masks and outfits, dressed up inside the houses and made their appearance in the windows. The French military had enough sense of humour to accept and respect their chuzpah. The ban has obviously long been lifted but the witches keep up the custom.



Offenburg is the birthplace of the Witch as a figure in the Alemannic Fastnacht. In 1933, not earlier than that as explained above, the first witches appeared in Offenburg’s parade. Three years later, in 1936, the first witch guild (Hexenzunft) was founded in Offenburg. In other words, in the middle of the Nazi era, which may explain why the post-war French government was so restrictive about the street carnival.


There is another, older guild in Offenburg that call themselves „Althistorische Narrenzunft“. Their main figure is the Spättle, a colourful figure covered in little patches of fabric from head to toe, sporting a laughing face. The guild also includes a (mock-)military guard with a miniature cannon, the military brass band, the „Alde“, i. e. Old Offenburg Lady in Biedermeier dress and a painted textile mask, the black Dominos, and a couple of single figures.


They make their grand appearance, marking the end of the street carnival, right after the witches have fed everyone and retreated from the windows. Then the Althistorische march in and assemble for the Funeral of the Fastnacht. First they hand out sweet buns in the shape of a cross to the spectators. Then comes the sad part. The Spättle put on black cloaks and everyone is very very sad while the final speech is done and the jester flag taken down.


A crying Spättle fell into my arms. „Oh, this is sad, the Fasnet is over, this is sooooo sad…“ I had to comfort her, LOL. We figured out together that Easter will come soon, then we’ll all go on our summer holidays, and then it’s already almost Christmas and right after Christmas the next Fasnet season is about to begin, so it is already almost Fasnet again…


Posted by Kathrin_E 02:10 Archived in Germany Tagged festival traditions baden-württemberg alemannic_fastnacht Comments (1)

A Gallery of More Jesters

Three are hundreds and hundreds of jester guilds all over Baden-Württemberg, nobody could visit all of them in a lifetime. Often they participate in jester meetings and parades in other places. Jester meetings are always a great chance to see many new guilds. I got to see many outside their hometowns. Here is a collection of jester figures that I liked for this or that reason, figures I encountered somewhere in the parades. Some are funny, some are weird, some are scary, some are breathtakingly beautiful.

Butz and Butzenzuttel from Hirrlingen

A witch from Rottenburg

Pestmännle and Butzen from Hechingen. Legends tell of a poor little sick man who brought the plague into town and was heavily punished.

Two Weißenberger Weihergeister - yes, there are indeed two posing for my photo.

Moikäf'r Dellmensingen - May beetles

Glottertäler Triibl - Grape spirits from a side valley in the northern Breisgau which is known for its wines

Proof: witches can fly with their broomsticks. The technique needs some improvement, though.

Trees from Empfingen - bewware of them...

Schömberger Fransekleidle, famous for the polonaise they are dancing

Hokema ("hook man"), a water spirit from Impfingen

Sachsenheimer Urzeln: their particularity is the painted gaze mask

Gränz-Pfluderi Waggis from Weil, very close to Basel, 2004 and in their new Häs 2005

Neckarschreck, Stuttgart

Lindauer Binsengeischter with the catch of the day

Grusilochzotti, Lahr

Korkenzieher (Corkscrew drawers) from Lahr - I wonder who drank all that wine to make the Häs

Suggentäler Schreckli

Posted by Kathrin_E 13:41 Archived in Germany Tagged alemannic_fastnacht Comments (0)

Jester Meeting 2018 in Gengenbach

Schalk and Bott as heads of the Gengenbach guild lead the parade

Members of the guild council

On a weekend in January 2018, Gengenbach and its jester guild hosted this year’s regional meeting of the VSAN, the association of Swabian-Alemannic jester guilds. 40 guest guilds from all over Baden-Württemberg and even from Switzerland followed the invitation and participated in the parade. Most of them were accompanied by a band from their town or village.

The climax of the weekend was the big parade on Sunday afternoon. I came over by train to watch, equipped with my camera as usual. The parade started in the western part of the town. I found myself a good spot just 3 minutes from the station.

This time I did not even enter the old town. The weather was fine and partly sunny, which meant good light for the photographers. During this extraordinarily rainy winter, the sunshine was even more welcome.

Next to and in front of me I had a family with a child in a stroller. The little girl was dressed up as a cat, super cute. Certainly she received loads of goodies from the jesters! I appreciated the presence of the stroller, which kept an open gap in the crowd, very useful for taking photos through said gap.

I had the sun in my back and the opening of a street, no shadow cast by houses. I think I caught some fine shots.

For more about the Gengenbach jester guild, please refer to the respective previous entry.

There were 41 numbers listed and most groups turned out to be large, so this parade took several hours. After number 28 and almost three hours, I was stiff and my feet, legs, back, everything hurt, so I decided to leave and catch the next train which was due five minutes later. Hence I saw but three quarters of the parade. (I am growing old! Ten years ago this would not have occurred to me!)

The guilds I missed were, though, all groups I had seen and photographed extensively in previous years. So it wasn't such a loss for my photo archive.

Gengenbach witches and Lumbehund

Witch fun

Plätzlerzunft Altdorf-Weingarten



Stubborn horses, led by drovers, are part of the show.

The Weingarten guild carry long whips (Karbatschen) and know how to use them. It's better to make room for them.





Wangemer Narrenzunft, Wangen/Allgäu


Kübelesmarkt Bad Canstatt, Stuttgart-Bad Cannstatt



The characteristic figure are the Felbenköpf. A historical legend is connected with them:

One very foggy night by the moonlight, the Cannstatters spotted troops of the enemy in the fields around their town, ready to attack... however, the "soldiers" turned out to be nothing but the pollard willows lined up along the path. The masks represent the willow stumps.

"Moons" walk among them.

The crazy fire brigade of Bad Cannstatt

Narrizella Ratoldi Radolfzell, Holzhauermusik Radolfzell

Two crazy woodcutters

Narrenzunft Schömberg

Perhaps the most beautiful of all jesters. They can be described as the elegant, courtly, distinguished, gentle jesters who don't harm anyone. They walk in rows of four and perform a polonaise. Lt the photos speak for themselves.

Fastnachtsvereinigung Herbstein, Springerzug



Herbstein is located in the Vogelsberg mountains in Hessen - in theory far away from the range of the Alemannic Fastnacht, but they are often guests at jester meetings. They are famous for their jumping dance.

Bajazz, the king of the jumpers, leads the row of the dancers. They run in pairs and perform their rythmic jumps, which require a high level of physical fitness.

All the "girls" are impersonated by boys, by the way!

My photo reveals the answer to the question of all questions:
What do they wear underneath...?

Narrenzunft Kißlegg Hudelmale


===Urzelnzunft Sachsenheim===


Unusual masks with unusual origins: they are not carved in wood like most others, but made from gauze and painted.


Sachsenheim near Stuttgart is the northernmost centre of the Swabian Fastnacht region. However, these masks are not Swabian. The tradition of the Urzel day originates in Transsylvania and was imported by "Siebenbürger Sachsen" who left Romania and moved to this village in the post-war era.

Narrenzunft Schwenningen

Schantle and Hansel. The vicinity to Villingen and its traditional guild cannot be denied.
The brown Moosmulle is a Häs for females and refers to the hard work of cutting peat in the nearby moors.


The tall Hölzlekönig is a singular figure, referring to a particularly huge fir tree in the woods near Schwenningen. After a lightning stroke the trunk received a metal cover.

Narro-Altfischerzunft Laufenburg


Narro and Narrönin

Laufenburg is located on the Hochrhein, right on the border, and consists of two separate towns with the same name: Swiss Laufenburg on the southern bank, German Laufenburg on the northern.

Until 1801 the town was united; politics then divided it (for the history buffs: in the peace treaty of Lunéville the southern side was given to Switzerland, the northern side to Austria; the latter became property of the Grand-Ducvy of Baden five years later).

Their carnival is an international joint venture. The "Old Fishermen's Guild" has members from both towns and they do their celebrations together. They have a common administration with two presidents, one from each side, and parity in the guild council.

The big salmon is their symbol and refers to Laufenburg's history as a centre of salmon fishing.

The jesters are all male. Only in rare cases a female member is admitted as "guild brother" with full rights.

There is one single female figure among them, called Narrönin, always worn by a male guest who is not a member of the guild.


The "sack carriers" hand out rolls and sausages to children and occasionally also to adults (I didn't get any...)

Narrenzunft Rottenburg

Rottenburger Ahlande and Pompele



Rumpel-Clique Basel



Guests from Basel: a small Clique with the characteristic piccolo flutes.

They go "Charivari", i.e. each of them has an individual costume and mask to their liking.

The hand-written sign informs us that they apologize for coming without drummers because of the flu.

Alemannische Larvenfreunde



An unusual group that consists of individual figures.

Toschtelfäger Schübelbach

A Guggemusik band from Switzerland. I love the cute drummer!

Narrenzunft Frohsinn Donaueschingen

A very pretty group, walking in pairs: the ladies in traditional local dress (Tracht), the men in white Narro Häs.

Narrenzunft Wilflingen

Schellnarren, their large belt with the open bells is unique.
The straw bear is a single figure, lead by four drovers.
See what you can do with those ugly ties you got for Christmas!
Those in the right photo are named Clon - not clones but clowns.

Schelmenzunft Staufen

Acrobatics performed by the young members
Their jesters are gentle people - or they seem to be

Katzenmusikverein "Miau" Villingen



We have met them already in my Villingen report. The Cat Musicians are led by the Tomcat Miau. Just like the Schalk in Gengenbach, he sleeps in a tower all year unless the guild come to awake him at the beginning of the Fastnacht.

Endinger Narrenzunft

A guild with a colourful Häs, named Jokili. Their home is a wine village in Kaisterstuhl.


Das Hohe und Grobgünstige Narrengericht Stockach


The jester court of Stockach holds a (mock) trial against a high-ranking politician every year. The sentence always involves, as punishment, the delivery of a certain amount of wine, which will them be consumed during the guild's meetings throughout the following year.
The judges are accompanied by Hansel in their colourful fabric masks.

Althistorische Narrenzunft Offenburg


Spättle in their colourful Häs, the jetser parents, and a member of the brass band. The flag attached to the trumpet shows the double-headed imperial eagle and refers to Offenburg's status as a free imperial city.


Narrenzunft Haslach



The name "Haslach" sounds simlar to the German word for hazel.

Hazelnuts and hazel leaves inspired the Häs of the local guild.

Kids are taken to the parades from youngest age. I am amazed how well this little one is sleeping despite all that noise and ballyhoo around.

Schellenhansel, named after the little bells attached to their clothing, are the most colourful members of the guild.


My favourite Haslach jesters are the Ranzengarde, though. "Dressed" in wine barrels, sporting long wooden noses and poited hats, they offer wine from the tap to selected people in the audience.


The jester troop, a parody on the military of the Napoleonic era, march with long guns and a cannon, and every now and then they fire a salute. They very kindly warn the spectators in advance. So, hold your ears!


Narrenzunft Schramberg



Schramberg's jesters: The Narro with his horns looks a bit scary, Brüele is always crying despite all the fund, Hansel is the elegant and friendly type.

Schramberg is famous for an extraordinarily silly and funny carnival tradition: floating down the canal through the town in a wooden tub. I have already described this in a previous entry. The guild of the Bach-na-Fahrer walks in parades with a little "tub" round their bellies.

Endivienbutz the jester policeman, and portraits of Bach-na-Fahrer

Narrenzunft Furtwangen

Various Häs types from Furtwangen

Narrenzunft Triberg

Red Devils from Triberg

Narrenzunft Krakeelia Waldkirch

The blue and yellow Bajass, dressed in the style of a court jester from the late middle ages, is Waldkirch's main figure.

Posted by Kathrin_E 04:06 Archived in Germany Tagged black_forest gengenbach alemannic_fastnacht Comments (1)

Zell am Harmersbach: Fairy Tales 2018


Schneckehüslinarro and Spielkartennarro

I have already described Zell and its jester guild in a previous entry. Hence I won't explain it all again, but show you my newest photos.


This year, 2018, I finally made it back to Zell for the Tuesday parade.

Originally I had intended to go on Sunday. The weather forecasts suggested a change of plans, though, as they predicted pouring rain all day long for Sunday and sunshine for Tuesday. This turned out to be the right decision, as my pictures prove.

After the long and dull, greyish winter that we had this year, I thoroughly enjoyed the sunlight and the bright colours.

Schneckehüslinarro and Welschkornnarro


This year's motto was: "Figures from the Fairytale Forest".

The groups from the different parts of the town came up with very varied interpretations of the motto.

And we had our two usual crazy commentators again. This time Manfred was Märchentante, Auntie telling fairy tales. No idea who he borrowed the fur coat and the hat from - his mother-in-law I'd guess?

The elf bicycle

Ali Baba and the 40 Thieves

Alice in Wonderland: Mad Hatters, Cheshire Cats, and the Queen of Hearts
To me they are the "winners" with their beautifully designed outfits that show so much love and care for details.

Trolls, or rather Drollige Drolle as they called themselves, performed a funny dance

The quarter nicknamed "Little Paris" impersonated Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.
They had much more than seven dwarfs, of course - and a dozen Snow Whites, and two Bad Queens.

A different interpretation of the motto. This group referred to the Soccer World Cup of 2006, which is often called Germany's Sommermärchen (Summer Fairy Tale). They played with the similarity of the words "Elf" (eleven) and "Elfen" (elves) and became a football team of elves.
The football kicker on their cart was the big hit with some young Bändele. They were totally absorbed in their game in the middle of the moving parade.



Pumuckl is a popular character from a German TV series for children, a naughty red-haired imp who lives at the workshop of his human friend Meister Eder the carpenter, and causes a lot of funny mayhem. They also invented a female Pumuckeline for the ladies in their group.

The Disney movie Frozen inspired this group. Including a snowflake machine on their cart.



The witch guild from neighbouring Unterharmersbach are regular participants in Zell's parades.

The same goes with the local Guggemusik band Eckwaldpuper. After the parade they gave a little concert on the stage in front of the town hall.

Bändele are dancing to the music, while the children enjoy their treats. The jester guild hands out free Weck und Worscht (roll and hotdog) to all kids.

For the rest of the day the Städtlefasend is in full swing: a street party with stalls selling food and drink, and all pubs and restaurants full to the brim, until the Fasend is buried at midnight.


Posted by Kathrin_E 00:53 Archived in Germany Tagged black_forest alemannic_fastnacht Comments (0)

Karlsruhe-Durlach 2018

"Durlach cheers, laughs and sings
When the jester the sceptre swings"
... the motto for 2018. Not exactly meaningful, sorry.


Due to lousy weather forecasts for the Black Forest region for Sunday, opposed to greyish but okay conditions at home, I decided to stay in Karlsruhe and give our local carnival another chance. The advantage was being able to go there by bicycle independent of crowded public transport, although cycling 2 x nine kilometres in rather strong cold wind from the side (i. e. no advantage in either direction) was not too funny.

I chose a spot in the western parts of Durlach close to the starting point of the parade, not in the centre. Thanks to that I did not see anything of the mess that happened further ahead. I only read on the news afterwards that the parade was stopped by a mob of drunk youths. Police were present and interfered, so that the parade was able to continue as planned.

I have already previously discussed the problems we have in the city with juvenile idiots whose idea of “fun” is ruining everyone else’s fun. They have no interest at all in carnival, neither know nor care a thing about it, all they want is cause trouble. This has already led to the discontinuation of some parades like Daxlanden and Grötzingen. Sooner or later this may set an end to street carnival altogether, I’m afraid. It’s a shame, and a worrysome development in society. What are these people thinking, or are they too brainless to think at all?


Anyway, back to Durlach. The parade was about half and half: Carnival clubs Rhineland style from the city on the one hand, Alemannic jester guilds from the suburbs and villages in the surroundings on the other. Many of these guilds make their appearance every year, both in Durlach and in the Tuesday parade in Karlsruhe; they also used to be among the regulars in Daxlanden. I suppose that most of them are too small to have their own parades in their villages, so they join and approfit from the big ones in the city. Some are traditional, others are really really wild and scary.





The carnival clubs had their wagons in the parade. Two of them were floats that had motives and transported a political message (one stupid, one brainy), although the quality was nowhere near what you’d get to see in Mainz or Cologne or Düsseldorf. One had this big jester hat. The others were simply normal trucks, decorated with a bit of painted canvas. Rather lame, dear carnival clubs.

I wholeheartedly agree with the wish to shoot Trump and Kim Jong Un to the moon...

The trucks carried the members of the Councils of Eleven (Elferrat) and other members with jester hats, and the girls of the dancing guards in their uniforms and wigs, throwing sweets into the crowd. That’s all they have to offer.


A few independent groups in between were more interesting. The the one and only really cool wagon was the huge pirate ship.


The parade also included two or three good Guggemusik bands.

In that side street where I was standing, there was a bit of a “neighbourhood feeling”. Several people among the spectators around me were greeted by participants who knew them – be it with sweets or with snubs and confetti attacks. To be fair, an event in a large city can never have the same familiarity as in a small town where everyone knows everyone.

Nevertheless… compare with the previous entry, Zell am Harmersbach. The atmosphere, the imagination, the design of the costumes, the details, the amount of enthusiasm in the participants’ faces.


The end of the parade sums it up. The last group in the procession is the garbage brigade that immediately sweeps away all traces of carnival, confetti, candy wrappers and leftover sweets, and it’s over, everything back to normal. While in places like Zell the street party begins…

Posted by Kathrin_E 14:17 Archived in Germany Tagged carnival karlsruhe alemannic_fastnacht Comments (0)

Basel: Introduction and Preparation



Basel is the No. 1 place for Fastnacht-type carnival which is worldwide known. In Basel they spell it “Fasnacht” without the T, by the way. Basel is absolutely unique.

Their most famous event is the Morgestraich, the starting ceremony on Monday morning at 4 a.m. But there is more going on during the “three most beautiful days of the year”. Monday and Wednesday afternoon see the two big Cortège parades that tour on acircular route through the city centre and Kleinbasel for at least three hours. Monday night belong to the Schnitzelbängg and their sung presentations of current events in politics and society. Tuesday is the day of the children and the Guggemusik bands. The latter are performing in the evening on three open-air stages at the Monschterkonzert.


These are the official events. But there is always something going on. Basel does not sleep for those 72 hours. Cliquen and bands, small groups and individual people roam the streets day and night with pipes and/or drums or full Guggemusik equipment.

If I say day and night, I mean it. Catching undisturbed sleep is impossible. I’ll never forget that damn Gugge band that marched the street past my hotel up and down, up and down, up and down at 3 a.m. in the morning. Had I had a bomb at hand, I’d probably have thrown it…

I have been to Basel a couple of times during Fasnacht, usually just for the day to see one of the Cortèges. There are special trains during the night of Morgestraich from all directions, so that would be doable from Karlsruhe, but I always found the prospect too stressful.


One year, though, I booked myself a hotel room for the entire three days in order to see it all. I booked already in September. Choice was already limited, but I managed to find an affordable hotel, a bit shabby but conveniently located in Kleinbasel between Claraplatz and Mustermesse. The Cortèges passed more or less underneath my window.

Having everything within walking distance was an advantage. Basel’s public transport is well organized to bring the masses of spectators to where the action happens, nevertheless I was glad to have a heated room to rest and warm up, and my private WC at hand any time.

Then later, I went again together with some other fellow members of our Soroptimist Club: Our Swiss link club organized a visit to the Chienbäse parade in Liestal as well as Morgestraich in Basel, including a hotel in central Basel.

The diversity of activities, as well as the gigantic number of photos that I have, require splitting up my report on Basel into a series of half a dozen blog entries. Stay tuned…


The Date

Fasnacht in Basel takes place one week later than everywhere else. How come? The explanation is a simple bit of maths.

The Lent’s duration is, in accordance with biblical fasting periods, 40 days, cpunting backwards from Easter Sunday. In the current calendar, though, it lasts seven weeks. Now do your maths.

40 days and 7 weeks, that does not match. It used to be exactly 40 days, but at some point the Roman Catholic church decided that the Sundays should not be counted as fasting days any more. 40 days plus six Sundays, that leads to the current date of Ash Wednesday as it is observed almost everywhere.

Almost. Basel, however, and other parts of Northern Switzerland have stuck with the “old” carnival date to this very day.

A big advantage for us “Fas(t)nacht tourists”: We can visit other places first and still go to Basel one week later.


Sunday: The Day of Anticipation


A local from Basel once wrote, “On that Sunday we are like children on the day before Christmas.” Everyone is waiting for the morning of all mornings. The last preparations are being done, and the atmosphere is full of anticipation. Most shop windows are decorated with Fasnacht themes. The first shrill sounds of piccolo flutes can be heard in the streets.


On Sunday in the late afternoon, before nightfall, the Cliques bring their lanterns to their chosen starting point for Morgestraich. When I arrived by train and walked into the city, I saw several such groups. The lanterns are still hidden under linen covers, lights turned off. Until the next morning the themes and images are kept secret, although the shape and protruding unveiled parts allow assumptions.

The lanterns are accompanied by an escort of marching pipers. On Sunday, it’s piccolo flutes only, no drums yet. This is called Yypfyffe, “Piping in the lanterns”. Participants do not yet wear any masks or fancy dress but everyday streetwear.

I had an appointment that night. Through the Tripadvisor forum(!) I had established contact with a member from Basel who is active in the Fasnacht herself. She and her husband take part in one of those many, many smallish groups which are lovingly nicknamed Schyssdräggziiglli. They have no lantern to bring into town, but they cultivate their tradition to meet at the eve of Morgestraich to play their flutes and “pipe in” Fasnacht. They very kindly invited me to come to their house and join the party.

These people were living in the suburb of St Alban right on the river bank. They have a roof terrace with a terrific view of the river and the old town panorama with Münster church. Impressed, I asked them, how does one find such an apartment. They said that their search had lasted seven years, but they had absolutely wanted to live on the Rhine bank.

Piccolo flutes are tiny instruments. But I assure you that 15 or so of them played inside a relatively small living room create a noise that cuts everyone’s eardrums to pieces!

I have taken pictures that night but please understand that I am hesitating to publish photos of someone's private living room.

Posted by Kathrin_E 02:34 Archived in Switzerland Tagged basel alemannic_fastnacht Comments (1)

The Clock Strikes Four: Morgestraich, vorwärts, marsch!


Seen in a pastry shop

Fasnacht in Basel begins on Monday morning at 4 a.m. sharp. The municipal energy supplier has a special switch that is used only once a year. One single click turns off all street lamps in the whole city at once.

All of a sudden, the streets are dark except for the lanterns and headlights. Everywhere you hear the command, “Morgestraich, vorwärts, marsch!” Pipers and drummers begin to play and the cliques march off.

A goosebumping moment. THE one particular moment of Basler Fasnacht. (I am shivering while I’m writing this.)



The origins of Morgestraich have to do with military musterings, which used to take place at the crack of dawn. The only instruments permitted are piccolo flutes and drums. They play the traditional marches, also closely related to military music. All year round they have practiced in order to perform the rhythms perfectly.

The sound that echoes through the streets, the shrill piping and the drumming, is incredible, and hard to describe.

Morgestraich is no parade with a fixed route. Each group marches where they like. They are wandering all over the city. They will pass more or less everywhere, hence there is no “best” spot to stand and watch. The whole of Central Basel as well as Kleinbasel on the other side of the river are involved.


At Morgestraich they go “Charivari”, which means that the groups have no common costume. Everyone wears his or her individual “Goschdym” (outfit) and “Larve” (mask). The larger Cliquen present their big lanterns. Many participants carry their own small lantern on a long stick. Almost everyone has a little headlamp on top of the Larve. All these are painted in bright colours with pictures related to the group's sujet, or with figures or scenes related to Fasnacht in general.


My new friends from the previous evening had told me where they would set off in the morning, so I went to meet them in time before four o’clock.

My host let me try on her mask… (The last photo shows, and taught me, why flash should not be used.)

Five minutes to go. Streetlights are still on. The formation is being set up.


We said good-bye already because it is close to impossible to find anyone in the dark crowded streets. But I marched with them for a while until I lost contact in the thickness of the crowds.


It is possible, and allowed, for visitors to march behind a Clique and follow them through the city. In perfect marching pace please, 90 steps per minute.

In fact, this is the only way to move safely through the dark streets. They have chosen their routes carefully. The first in the group, called “Vordraab”, are without instruments and have the task to make room and to lead the others along a route without stairs, elevated curbstones or other traps they might stumble over. They know their way. The others literally must be able to trust them blindly. And so can the follower.

All this motion is timeless, without direction or purpose, meditative despite the noise, like swirling clouds, or swarms of fish in the surf, or leaves in the wind. It’s best to go by yourself, so you don’t have to worry about losing your companions. It’s best not to plan anything but to float with the current, stop somewhere to watch, then find new guides to walk with. It’s all about the feeling. In these hours, the rest of the world and daily life are far, far away.

At dawn, things slow down but don't stop. Most will want a rest now. A must-have for breakfast is a plate of hot "Mehlsupp".

Practical Hints, Dos and Don’ts for Visitors


  1. Come in time. Decide in advance where you want to stand and watch. Go there well before 4 a.m. while the streetlights are still on.
  2. Expect crowds.
  3. Dress warm. You’ll be tired and thus feel the cold even more.
  4. If you have a place to stay, leave all your stuff there. Don’t take a bag if possible. Crowds in the darkness may include pickpockets. Keep your wallet, money, documents in an inner pocket of your jacket.
  5. Tie the camera strap round your wrist or wear it round your neck, so it can’t fall to the ground in case you are pushed by accident.
  6. No flash please. It ruins the atmosphere for everyone around and blinds the participants. And your photos won’t turn out too great either.
  7. Lanterns, masks, musical instruments and everything are precious property of the participants. When they are parked outside a pub while the Clique is taking a break, looking and taking still-life photos is fine, but don’t touch anything.
  8. Dress code: One either wears a full Goschdym and Larve from head to toe and participates, or normal streetwear if just watching. Fancy dress and painted faces among the spectators are frowned upon.
  9. The marching groups always have precedence. Don’t stand in their way.
  10. Forget your everyday world, and enjoy…

Lanterns parked outside a pub while their owners enjoy a refreshment


Photo Experiments



Taking photos in the darkness is a tricky matter. Closeup shots of the illuminated lanterns are easy to take, but catching the general atmosphere in focused photos is extremely difficult because it is dark and everything is in motion. A tripod cannot be used in the dense crowds, everyone would trip over it. Using flash is a no-no: it ruins the atmosphere and blinds people who have a limited eyesight through their masks anyway.
Unfortunately too many spectators are thoughtless in that respect…


Things become easier when dawn approaches and the sky turns blueish.



Finding one of those (inconsiderate and thus detested) shops that had not turned off the light in the shop window also helps the photographer.

My solution, however, is a different one: Forget about focus. Play with the motion and the blur. Create artistic images that almost look like paintings.

Here are my results. I am actually quite proud of some of these…


I am including some pictures I took on Monday and Tuesday night, when the streetlamps were on again, so there was more background light.


Can't we almost hear the noise of the drums?

Posted by Kathrin_E 12:31 Archived in Switzerland Tagged basel alemannic_fastnacht Comments (2)

Basel Part 3: Gässlegehe



“Gässlegehe” literally translates to “walking the lanes”. To many participants it is a vital part of Fasnacht activities, a rather meditative part. Outside the parades they roam the streets playing flutes or drums, some alone, some in small groups of two, three, or ten or twelve.

You’ll hear the sound of flutes or drums approaching at random in the quieter side streets and lanes of the centre, on Münsterberg, along the Rhine promenade, on the bridges, in Kleinbasel as well. They appear out of nowhere, pass and disappear round the next corner, totally absorbed.

They walk in the same slow marching tact, 90 steps per minute, as during Morgestraich and play the traditional tunes respective rhythms. It’s the same timeless and aimless motion.

Father and son

Photographers – such groups of Gässlegeher give you the chance to catch fine shots of the masks in broad daylight.

But please be discreet and don’t disturb them. They won’t want to pose for your camera, they want to wander and play their music.

This is my favourite Gässle photo, which I have already used in the introduction. I caught these three in Augustinergasse on the way up to Münsterplatz. In the square they paused and took off their masks, and I saw that they were three young girls of about thirteen.

A peculiar outfit: Everything, really everything from head to toe is knitted, even the mask and the wig.


In the run of the Monday the Guggemusik bands, who are banned from Morgestraich, begin to make their appearance in the streets. Gugge bands will be out and about any thime from then onwards until the wee hours of Thursday morning. Day and night.



Parked lanterns, piles of drums or brass instruments and Larven outside a “Beiz”, a pub or restaurant, indicate that the owners are taking a break from all that marching and enjoying a rest and a refreshment inside.

Often they unintendedly create the finest still-lifes that scream for the camera to be set to work. (Looking and taking photos is fine as long as the photographer does not come too close and does not touch anything.)


Posted by Kathrin_E 14:33 Archived in Switzerland Tagged basel alemannic_fastnacht Comments (2)

Basel Part 4: The Cortège Parades



My previous entries may have suggested that Fasnacht in Basel is all calm and meditative and beautiful.

Oh no, it is not.

A completely different, noisier and messier side shows up in the two big daytime parades, named “Cortège”. They take place on Monday and Wednesday afternoon, starting 13:30 and going on for at least three hours.

The route is fixed and minutely organized. A circular course through both Großbasel and Kleinbasel is marched in both directions. Since the clockwise and counter-clockwise routes differ in some parts, I recommend standing in places where they both run parallel in the same street.


The best spots are, to me, squares with a tramstop, for example Barfüßerplatz or Claraplatz, where there is room to stand in the middle and see both directons.


Unlike in other cities where the participants assemble in side streets and all start from the same spot so that spectators at the end have to wait for ages until they finally get something to see, in Basel they have a cleverer system. The groups are assigned their starting point all over the circular route, and the entire circle starts moving at the same time. Everywhere the activity sets in at half past two sharp. No long wait, no matter where you stand and watch.

The route plan is published in advance on the website of the committee: http://www.fasnachts-comite.ch/cortege_en

The groups and clubs in Basel's Fasnacht are called Clique. The committee probably has a number how many there are registered with them – to the visitor it looks and feels like several hundreds. Then there are also the smaller “Schyssdräggziigli” which don’t have the complete “staff” and programme that the big Cliquen present.

They say that there are about ten thousand participants in the Cortège – no idea if this number is true, it’s impossible to count them as a spectator. But there are many. Very many.

Guggemusik bands take part in the Cortège, too. Again, many of them, and all of them excellent.



Goodies are thrown to the visitors from the floats and carts: sweets, flowers, oranges, vegetables – but als loads of confetti, which is called “Räppli” just like the smallest Swiss coins.






The unsuspecting visitor is more likely to receive a load of Räppli than anything else…

Typical Cortège selfie...

Basel’s Fasnacht is not only fun, though, but also highly political. This is the ancient right of the jesters. Under their masks are allowed to speak the truth and say everything people would not dare to say aloud under normal circumstances.

Each Clique selects a “Sujet” for the year’s Fasnacht, a theme concerning politics, society, economy, culture, whatever. The topic can be local, national or international. This theme is then commented upon in a half humourous, half critical way. Costumes and lantern are designed according to the Sujet.

While at Morgestraich they went “Charivari”, i. e. everyone wore an individual costume to their liking, in the Cortège parade the Cliquen present their Sujets and dress up accordingly.

Lanterns pass quickly during the parades. They are artworks that deserve a closer look. More about them in a separate blog entry.

Examples for Sujets

100th anniversary of the women's bath in Eglisee, a lake on the outskirts of Basel

Shop advertising and discounts (2006)

The situation in Libya under Ghaddafi (2010)

"In the water up to our throats"



"Yes We Camp" (2010): A serious one, quite goosebumping among the colourful parade. It refers to the earthquake of L'Aquila in 2009, people still homeless and living in tents a year later, and a prime minister Berlusconi who did nothing except big-mouthed speeches.

"Hail Helvetia, you still have your bridges": marching in an impressive formation

"Aldi et Obi": fearing the German invasion, and referring to the German Empire under Emperor Wilhelm II.
Anti-German topics are frequent. They really must have ressentiments against us.

A Fasnacht Clique consists of...

In the Cortège the Cliquen march in a certain order. Each section has a particular task to do.

They are the ones who walk in front. A job for members who can’t play neither drums nor flutes. During Morgestraich it’s their task to lead the way and make room for the formation behind. In the Cortège parades they distribute the so-called “Zeedel” (papers) to the spectators. On these papers, the Sujet is explained and commented in verses, half humorously, half seriously. In Baseldytsch, of course. Understanding them requires profound language skills and, in case of us native speakers of (German) German, a solid amount of imagination,

The lantern is either carried by four strong pairs of shoulders or placed on a cart and pulled. During the Morgestraich on Monday morning the lanterns are illuminated from inside. In the daytime parades on Monday and Wednesday they are presented without illumination.

Almost every larger Clique also has a wagon. This can be a small cart, a horse-drawn carriage, or a huge float pulled by a tractor.
From the wagon all kinds of gifts are distributed: sweets, oranges, flowers, sometimes vegetables, beer cans, little toys, packs of paper handkerchiefs... and confetti. Big sacks of confetti in colours that match the Clique's costumes.

The wagon is followed by the music. Traditionally there are only two instruments involved: drums, played by the Tambouren, and piccolo flutes, played by the Pfeifer.

The conductor walks between the flute group and the drum group. The conductor is usually an oversized figure with a very large papermâché head, a hole in the throat allows the person underneath to see.
The Guggemusik bands also have these oversized conductor fugures.

The Pfeifer masks are shorter than the others, they don't cover mouth and chin of the musician.
Pink tulle and grey beards go well together...

Traditional Figures in the Fasnacht



Basel's best-known mask type is the Waggis with his big nose, big mouth and teeth and a mullet-like mane in bright colours.

The person inside sees through the open nostrils of the mask. This is perhaps the iconic image that crosses people’s minds first when thinking of Basel carnival.

The Waggis is originally meant to be the caricature of a dumb Alsatian peasant. It came into existence in the late 19th century after the German-French war of 1870/71. Imagination has created the weirdest changes and varieties.

Harlekin (Arlecchino) and Pierrot have their origins in the Italian Commedia dell'arte.

The Alti Dante (Old Aunt) is a dignified, well dressed, old-fashioned elderly lady.

Glaun is simply a clown. Spelled according to Baseldytsch orthography.

Ueli wears the costume of a medieval court jester in mi-parti colours and a hood with long ears and little bells. He is a very old figure in Basel's Fasnacht.
The lantern of this Ueli Clique presents the world of the Ueli... the Ueliverse, the griffin with Ueli ears, the crest of Canton Ueli (the one of Canton Uri, ueli-fied), the Ueli newspaper and an Ueli flying saucer.

Not so traditional figures…

However, there is no limitation to these traditional types. People are free to use their imagination. Anything goes (as long as it isn’t obscene).




Nothing is holy. Really nothing.

The Miraculous Transformation of the Basel Citizen

Putting on the mask changes everything...

Posted by Kathrin_E 04:14 Archived in Switzerland Tagged basel alemannic_fastnacht Comments (1)

(Entries 31 - 40 of 43) « Page 1 2 3 [4] 5 »