Once Upon a Fasnacht

Lällechönig
Flickr.com // © Noel Reynolds
It’s an experience like no other. Baslers and visitors agree, you either love it or hate it, but rarely anything in between. No, no, for better or worse, the Basler Fasnacht is something you’ll never forget.

I experienced it for the first time at fiftenn years old. I remember setting my alarm for the middle of a freezing February night. I wake up, catching the last few speeches of the Academy Awards as I layer in long johns, jeans, and sweaters. My sister cracks open the front windows, and already carnival-goers are streaming down our street.

We throw on our coats (with our ‘Blaggede’ pins buttoned on top to avoid being attacked by confetti!) and begin the trek toward Marktplatz, only a few blocks from our apartment — very helpful, since the tram and bus lines are packed. It’s cold, but somehow in the excitement of a citywide, midnight party with friends and strangers alike, Basel feels like it’s on fire.

And then waiting in the city centre, just as your hands and feet start to go numb, suddenly everything goes pitch black. It’s 4:00 a.m., Morgestraich, and Fasnacht has begun. It’s half dream, half nightmare as the insomnia, anticipation, and costumes all combine to create something at once wonderful and terrifying.

The music starts, at first distant and strange, and then louder and louder as the musicians come marching through the streets in all shapes and sizes with their colourful costumes and giant, oversized masks — some happy, some sad, anywhere from crazy, to cranky, to euphoric. The resounding boom of the drum and the shriek of the flutes echo off the cobblestones, and off the Rathaus and stone columns as the figures make their way through the streets, led by carnival floats and medieval-looking lanterns. And as the noise resonates around the city and Basel is engulfed in music and laughter, you find your friends and retreat to the nearest restaurant to warm yourself up with some traditional ‘Mahlsuppe’ (flour soup).

If you make it to Morgestraich this year, you’ll see that this is just the beginning. From 4:00 a.m. Monday to 4:00 a.m. Thursday, Basel is transformed. Work comes to a halt. And in the days that follow, you’ll find an endless celebration with unexpected parades, music, and mysterious masked carnival-goers throwing confetti and oranges.

You’ll run into people you know, and others you didn’t even know you knew. You’ll be out in the sun, and out in the rain, and up in the dark, and all the while walking on a growing carpet of coloured confetti. You’ll hear the traditional “Guggemusik,” bands playing a variety of both traditional and pop music…one of the few places on earth will you catch a rendition of Rod Stewart’s “Do Ya Think I’m Sexy” performed with trombone and tuba. You’ll see sheets of traditional Swiss rhymes and poetry littering the street. There will be humor and friends, and memories, and crowds and inconveniences, and of course, pickpockets. But you’ll never see anything like it anywhere else.

I still think about that very first Morgestraich. Everyone in town got sick after three straight days of carnival, but no one cared. And I’ll never forget that night. Now, when even our Swiss friends say they’ve never been to ‘Morgestraich’, we tell them they have to go at least once. With family and friends, it’s something that will stay with you for the rest of your life.

Morgestraich is at 4:00 a.m., February 18, 2013. Visit fasnachts-comite.ch for more tips, do’s and dont’s, a route map for the processions, and much more!

Click here fore more info from Basel Community about Fasnacht in Basel and its surroundings.

Your Valentine’s Day Abroad

Switzerland has become one of the world’s top romantic destinations. With the gorgeous Swiss alps, ski-retreats, and all the coziness of a warm fire that Switzerland’s cold winters afford, it’s no wonder lovers from all over the world are flocking to this beautiful country.

And to the beautiful city of Basel. So what is Basel doing for Valentine’s Day?

The city is full of romantic restaurants, all celebrating with their own unique Valentine’s menus (you can see a list of our favourites here!). The famed hotel and restaurant Les Trois Rois overlooking the Rhein is offering a special Valentine’s Day meal in their Brasserie, complete with five-course menu and surprise aperitif. (CHF 135 per person. For reservations, call +41 61 260 50 02. Also special this year is the observance of an age-old Basler tradition: this Valentine’s Day, the Thursday before Fasnacht, the three kings at the hotel’s entrance will be dressed as “Waggis,” heralding the Fasnacht season!)

And of course, no one can deny the simple romance of a traditional fondue dinner. Here is a fun list of “Fon-dos” and “Fon-Don’ts” from world-renowned fromagers Emmi of Switzerland: globenewswire.com/news-release/2012/02/06/467244/244904/en/Valentine-s-Day-Etiquette-Fondue-and-Fon-don-t-Tips-From-Emmi-of-Switzerland.html.

“Fon-do”

Variety is the spice of life! Be creative and serve a wide variety of dippables. Crusty bread, fresh fruit and veggies, boiled shrimp, marshmallows and cookies are all wonderful in fondue. Just be sure everything is prepared ahead in bite-size pieces.

Mix it up! Fondue is the perfect appetizer, main course or dessert. If you want to start with chocolate and end with cheese, it’s up to you!

Swiss Kiss! It is tradition when eating fondue, to kiss the person to your right if you drop your bread in the cheese. (It’s ok to do it on purpose…)

“Fon-Don’t”

Don’t forget to stir. As the night keeps moving, be sure to keep your fondue moving. Stir it up to so your cheese or chocolate fondue remains smooth.

Don’t double dip. Every fork- or skewer-full should contain a new, unbitten morsel. (If a piece falls in the fondue, see fon-do tip #3 above!)

Don’t hide any surprises. While fondue offers a lot of interactive eating enjoyment, it is not a good place to stash an engagement ring or other surprise gifts for your sweetie.

Maybe surprise gifts are better left for the cake…how about a decadent chocolate cake or cupcakes layered with Toblerone chocolate icing? If you feel like being adventurous, you can try out a recipe for Toblerone frosting here!

One of the unique and often challenging things about Basel is that for many it is not a permanent home — it is a stopping place for travellers, for the workers and adventurers and gypsies among us. Many expats in Basel are on temporary work assignments, or are away from loved ones and friends during the holidays. What do you do if you can’t be with that special someone on Valentine’s Day?

The good news is that in today’s high-tech world, it’s almost impossible to be disconnected. If you have apps like FaceTime on your mobile phone, your sweetheart will love seeing the Rhein River and Markplatz, and all the sights and sounds around Basel. You could make it a memorable Valentine’s Day with a virtual tour of the city, or a romantic Skype dinner at home. Technology now lets us be more creative than ever before.

How are you celebrating Valentine’s Day? We’d love to hear about it!