Carnival of Basel

Carnival of Basel
The Carnival of Basel (Basler Fasnacht) is Switzerland’s largest carnival celebration. Although Basel is a traditionally Protestant city, it has been celebrating Carnival for centuries. The Carnival of Basel is often referred to as the only Protestant carnival in the world.

The Carnival of Basel dates back to the Middle Ages. While most regions officially stopped celebrating Fasnacht after the Reformation, Basel went on with the festivities. Unlike Catholic carnivals, the Carnival of Basel is held after the beginning of Lent. It begins on the Monday after Ash Wednesday and lasts for three days.

The Morgestraich on Monday morning marks the beginning of the festivities. At exactly 4 am all the lights and street lights in the city’s old town go out. The only light remaining comes from the lanterns carried by the participants of the opening procession. In Basel, carnival groups are called the Cliques. During the Morgestraich, the Cliques march through the old town carrying lanterns and playing basler drums and piccolos. The lantern parade lasts until dawn.

Other groups of participants at the Carnival of Basel include Guggemusic groups (brass bands), Schnitzelbank singers, and Schyssdräggziigli. Guggemusic groups are marching bands playing traditional Carnival music. Schnitzelbank singers are bards that sing satirical verses about current events in Swiss German. Schyssdräggziigli are non-Clique groups and individuals that wander through the streets making music during the Carnival.

The main highlight of the Carnival of Basel is the Grand Parade called the Cortège. It features decorated floats (Waage) and carriages (Chaise / Schäse) with costumed characters throwing flowers, sweets and oranges to the crowd and showering spectators with confetti. The most recognizable characters are Waggis, an affectionate spoof on the Alsatian farmers who used to sell produce at Basel markets. The parade also features Guggemusic bands. The parades take place on Monday and Wednesday and follow two ring routes.

Other events that take place during the Carnival include Gugge concerts, the Children and Family Fasnacht on Tuesday, and the lantern exhibition. Gugge concerts are held on Tuesday evening in the old town. The main one takes place in Marktplatz and is broadcast live. The lantern exhibition features the lanterns used during the Morgestraich. They are displayed in Münsterplatz from Monday evening until Wednesday morning. The exhibition is especially spectacular in the evenings when the lanterns are lit.

Although Fasnacht itself lasts for three days only, there are plenty of pre-Carnival events (Vorfasnachtsveranstaltungen). They include musicals and contests, competitions, children’s events, the lantern piping, and more. Many masked balls are held by different Cliques on the Saturday after the Carnival.

Carnival of Basel

Photo: John Gow




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