Carnival of Bern

Carnival of Bern
The Carnival of Bern (Bärner Fasnacht) is one of the three largest Carnival celebrations in Switzerland (the other two are held in Basel and Lucerne). The Bern Carnival as it is known today was officially established in 1982 but the earliest evidence of the historical Carnival in Bern dates back to the 15th century.

Carnival was first celebrated in Bern during the Middle Ages. Celebrations were held before the beginning of Lent. During the 16th century, the Reformation caused a rift between the Catholic and Protestant citizenry of Bern. Some Protestant playwrights used the Carnival as an opportunity to spread an anti-Catholic message through carnival plays. The Bern Carnival was banned sometime during the 16th century. Some of the city’s residents traveled to Lucern or Basel to participate in pre-Lent festivities.

The idea of bringing Carnival back to Bern was first voiced in the 1970s. The modern era Bärner Fasnacht was officially founded in 1982. Over the years, it has grown to become the third largest Carnival celebration in Switzerland.

The Carnival season in Bern begins at 11:11 am on November 11 just like the Rhenish Carnival in Germany. On this day, Bern’s heraldic beast bear is captured in the Käfigturm, a medieval tower located in the Old City of Bern. Of course, the capture is symbolic, there are no actual bears involved. The bear sleeps in the tower the entire winter and is awakened by drumming and released on the first day of Carnival.

Unlike most Carnivals that are held right before Lent, the Bern Carnival traditionally begins on the Thursday after Ash Wednesday and lasts for three days. The celebration begins with a symbolic liberation of the bear. In fact, there are several bears played by revelers dressed up in costumes. They are released from the Käfigturm and Carnival begins.

After the bears have been released, thousands of revelers in vibrant costumes flood the streets of Bern and begin partying. Celebration includes music, dancing, singing, exciting games, and other activities.

The highlight of Carnival Friday is the children’s parade. The program of the day also features other events and activities for children such as shows, concerts and contests. A torchlight procession is held in the evening.

Saturday is the final day of the Carnival of Bean. It is the day of the Grand Parade featuring more than 50 beautifully decorated floats, costumed characters, marching bands, clowns, magicians, and other performers. The parade marches through the Old Town and ends with a spectacular performance.

Carnival of Bern

Photo: Peter Szabo(PeSaboterz)




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