Each year Basel in Switzerland holds its Fastnacht which is three days of processions, small bands wandering the streets playing piccolos and drums and people in costume reciting stories in cafes. There is a lot of fun and mayhem with a lot of confetti thrown (being Swiss it is cleaned up very quickly.) This year the carnival starts on 14th March it always begins at 4am in the market place. Everywhere is very dark and quiet then at 4am precisely a procession of lanterns comes into the square, the drummers start drumming and the piccolos are played.The square is filled with light and sound. It is magical and a true feast for eyes and ears.
I lived in Basel some years ago and have never forgotten the magic of their carnival.
On the Sunday night after Mardi Gras, start the Swiss Fasnacht celebration by visiting the small and sleepy town of Liestal. On that day though, the town will not appear sleepy at all, as it is the day of the Chienbäse parade. This tradition dates back to the 16th century and involves the town’s strongmen and women carrying burning broomsticks through the city to chase away the evil spirits. If that is not enough excitement, watch the flames of huge wagons piled up high with burning wood licking the roof of the narrow town gate. Surely, health and safety regulations in most countries would not allow a parade of that kind!
Continue the celebration of a different carnival, maybe less cheerful but wonderfully spooky and impressive, at precisely 4am on Monday after Ash Wednesday. Experience a city coming to life in the dark, as all street-lights are switched off to fully appreciate the groups of Fasnächtler meandering through the crowded streets of Basel, carrying beautifully hand-crafted lanterns on their heads and in their hands. Accompanied by drums and piccolo flutes, the lanterns wander through the city displaying current issues of interest in politics, world and local, usually in a mocking and sarcastic way. The Fasnächtler are disguised wearing the Larve (traditional mask), which are usually rather ugly and scary – so be prepared to jump if one of these comes up from behind in a dark city backstreet, as there are no fixed routes and a group can turn up anywhere you walk. Finish this early morning experience in a Beize (pub) with a traditional meal of Mehlsuppe (flour soup), Chäsweihe (delicious Swiss cheese quiche) or Zwiebelkuchen (onion quiche), and watch all the locals wandering off to work.
The annual carnival celebration in Basel is unlike any other: held after Lent begins, filled with traditions, images and rituals dating back to the Middle Ages, a truly (Protestant) Swiss celebration. Fasnacht is for the locals, although visitors are welcome to watch the parades and displays. This year's Fasnacht kicks off at 4:00am on Monday, February 26th.
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