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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)

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