I coincidentally started my Swiss secondment in time for Fasnacht (“carnival”) in Basel, where for three days (4 a.m. Monday-4 a.m. Thursday after Ash Wednesday) the usually staid residents partake in what I am calling the creepiest parades known to mankind.
But what is Fasnacht? A proper explanation here with useful brochure.
As weird as the parades and ear-piercing as the piccolo marching bands are, it is pretty special to see a city come together like this.
- Sunday night – fire parade in Liestal
- Monday morning, 4 a.m. – Morgenstreich (all city lights turned out promptly at 4 a.m., parade is illuminated by large lantern floats and lanterns on sticks or hats used by participants; no confetti used); plenty of videos on YouTube to give an idea
- Monday day – Cortège (day parade with numerous piccolo marching bands and floats where participants throw confetti, candy, flowers and household items like oranges, bread or other random things to the crowd); I have never received such useful items at a parade before – fresh fruit and a mini sewing kit – I’ll take that over candy any day!
- Tuesday day – children’s parade
So here are my tips and what I learned during Fasnacht:
- ALL parade participants wear creepy masks! It was like people submitted their scariest nightmares, then those were made into costumes! This is made even creepier at Morgenstreich because the parade is done in the dark of night!
- Purchase and wear a blagette (when pronounced, it sounds like “plaque-ette-ah”), but particularly during Cortège. These pins are sold at the train station, and also from some street vendors. 8 CHF for “bronze” level. Proceeds go to Fasnacht participants/organizers, so this is like paying an admission fee to the event.
- Another reason to wear your blagette is to avoid confetti attacks – though I admit that sounds kind of fun. I was told the (mostly male) parade participants often target women not wearing a blagette and will douse them with confetti and even shove it down the back of coats! I saw one guy holding a giant fistful of confetti in one hand and candy in the other, asking a woman where her blagette was before deciding which hand to throw.
Only single-colored confetti is sold and thrown. It is considered bad manners/unsanitary to use multi-colored confetti because that implies you gathered it off the ground and re-purposed.
- Morgenstreich – early morning parade
- I tried looking online for tips on best viewing spots, but found little info … because the parade literally traverses all the streets in the city center, so you’re guaranteed to see it! I picked Marktplatz since it’s a huge square and I saw camera crews setting up there. Next time I’d pick a smaller square to be closer to intersecting routes to double the action.
- Find a spot by 3:30. Arriving at 3 a.m., there were minimal people so I got a front-row standing spot. By 3:30, it was packed.
- Don’t be the annoying person who takes photos with flash. This is a night parade, if you recall.
- Bundle up and wear warm socks and shoes. It may not feel cold when you first leave your house/hotel, but you’ll be standing outside for at least an hour.
- Määlsuppe (roasted flour soup) and Käse- or Zwiebelwähe (cheese or onion quiche) are typical snacks before and after Morgenstreich.
- Cortège – day parade
- Is hours long, so no worries about making it there right at the beginning. We started around 1:30 p.m.
- Again, this parade travels throughout Basel and on both sides of the river. We checked out different squares and large intersections and rarely saw the same floats and bands twice.
- Sometimes band members break off and randomly roam the side streets – still playing their instruments and still garbed. This can be an eerie sight and sound when you see two scary clowns marching down an alley toward you while playing a marching tune on their piccolos.
After a couple hours of Fasnacht revelry, we called it a day and my “host family” had me over for traditional cheese fondue. Perfect after a day spent in the cold. When I made it back to my apartment around 9 p.m., I could still hear the piccolo and drum bands out and about in the city.
Fasnacht in Basel is a
really weird but in a good way unique thing to experience, so join in and go with the flow if you’re near the city the week after Ash Wednesday. Just be prepared to find confetti everywhere for months to come. 🙂