10 March | 04.00 – 13 March | 04.00
Carnival in Basel is an experience like no other. It’s extravagant, it’s loud, it’s crowded, it’s a great big deliciously cacophonous mess. The biggest carnival festival in Switzerland, the Basler Fasnacht is an historic and fun event that you must experience at least once in your lifetime.
It all starts with Morgästraich, that moment at 4:00 in the morning when, after what feels like the entire city has gathered downtown, the lights go out and the Cliquen (groups who are part of the festival) start their first march, all at the same time. Hundreds of Fasnächtler, or Fasnacht-participants, dressed in elaborate costumes compose the Cliquen, playing their tunes with flutes and drums, marching in a massive parade of colours and lighted lanterns, with bright handcrafted carts and displays usually saturated with political satire. (Try to attend this with a Swiss friend so they can explain the jokes!) And the Fasnächtler carry on as the morning dawns, taking breaks to warm up now and then at a local bar before heading out again.
After the Morgästraich, join some friends to try some Mehlsuppe, flour soup (a Fasnahct tradition), at one of the local restaurants or pubs. You can also try other local specialties Zwiebelkuchen, a pie made of onions and bacon, or chäschüechli, a cheese quiche. Many restaurants are open for the entirety of the drey scheenschte Dääg…
Die drey scheenschte Dääg
The carnival itself lasts for 72 hours straight, running until Thursday morning at 4:00 a.m. These three days, called the drei schöoenschte Dääg or the ‘three most beautiful days,’ are a non-stop celebration, with special parades on Monday and Wednesday called Cortège as well as other parades all throughout the city. Another fun part of Fasnacht is the Guggemusik — brass bands who play everything from classic folk to modern pop songs. The Gugge participate at Cortège on Monday and Wednesday, but Tuesday night is dedicated especially to the Guggemusik, with concerts spread out through the centre of the city, at Barfüsserplatz, Marktplatz, and Claraplatz. Buy a klöpfer and Feldschlösschen lager at the food stand and enjoy a fun evening of lively music.
Tuesday is also the day for the Children and Family Fasnacht, where children can take part in the marches with their parents.
Monday through Wednesday evening, you can catch ‘Schnitzelbänke,’ when performers sing satirical songs about current events and personalities. More info.
You’ll enjoy dozens and dozens of floats during the parades, and you might get thrown an orange or other treat from one of the wagons. But you might also get stuffed with Räppli — colourful paper confetti. (And once it gets in your house or flat, you’ll be able to remember Fasnacht all year long, as you’ll continue to find it during your housekeeping for the rest of the year!) The best way to ward off confetti-throwers is to buy a Fasnacht Blaggedde, a badge or pin worn during the festival, which you can buy in the weeks leading up to Fasnacht. Yet even with the pin, there’s a fairly good chance that you’ll still get showered in Räppli at some point during the festival!
Besides Mehlsuppe, Chäschüechli, and sausages and beer, there are several treats you can look forward to for Fasnacht. Try Faschtewaihe, a white, pretzel-shaped bread topped with cumin seeds found at bakeries like Sutter and local supermarkets. For a sweet treat, head to your favourite confiserie, Migros, or Coop for some Fasnachtschüechli—delicious deep-fried pastry topped with powdered sugar.
There’s much to love about Fasnacht! What’s your favourite part of the festival? Tell us in the comments!
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!
How do you make Mehlsuppe? I hear you’re supposed to eat it for Morgestraich.
I dont ever make Mehlsuppe — I can’t stand Mehlsuppe! But I can tell you how to make it, and it’s very popular for our Fasnacht festival. You can buy packets in all the grocery shops, like Coop and Migros; then just add water and when it boils, let it cook for about seven minutes. Add onions and cheese, like Gruyère or Appenzeller.
Or if you want make it from scratch, I found some links for you:
My Swiss friends tell me that I shouldn’t tip the waiter more than one or two francs. In the States, we generally tip about 20%. What should I tip here?
Dear Needing Help,
Your Swiss friends are right, you’re not expected to tip the waiter 20% since it’s all included in the service. If you want to be nice, you can leave a few francs. Tipping also depends on how long you’ve been sitting at your table, what you’ve consumed, if you’re happy with the service. If you’re not happy, don’t give anything! Once I didn’t like the service and so didn’t leave a tip at all. On the other hand, for a very good meal at a nice, popular restaurant, we paid 90 CHF and left a 4 CHF tip.
For a 64 CHF hairstyle, I usually tip CHF 7 – especially if I intend to keep going back to the stylist.
Taxis will let you know if there are any extra charges, or you can tip them CHF 2.
I only give money to street musicians who are students or have CDs. I never pay musicians on the tram. Actually, this is prohibited.
Also, don’t encourage beggars by giving them money.
At the Weihnachtsmarkt, Herbstmesse, or Flea Markets, don’t tip unless it was fantastic.
When visiting Flea Markets remember they expect you to bargain!
Don’t bargain in shops — except when buying a car!! That’s for another day…