If someone asked you to name the top three carnivals in Europe, what would they be? Venice? Cologne? A city in Spain? Next time you are planning to attend a carnival - especially if you are a photographer - consider coming to Switzerland and attending the Carnival of Basel (Basler Fasnacht). This is a short teaser, illustrated with photographs from this year's Fasnacht by yours truly.
Carnival With a Twist
Masks? Check. Parades? Check. Music on the street? Loud. You've got the usual elements in place.
But there are things that make this carnival special and worth visiting (in fact, it has been on the UNESCO list of Intangible Cultural Heritage since 2017). Let's go through some of them that I personally find interesting.
Larve, or mask, worn by the Waggis - the troublemakers and confetti-throwers
The carnival in Basel takes place a week after typical carnivals would take place, starting on the Monday after Ash Wednesday. The usual explanation would refer to the Reformation - Basel became a Protestant city in the early 16th century and in order to differ from the Catholic tradition, it decided to celebrate when the Catholic Lent already started. Maybe that is why it is said that Basler Fasnacht is the only "Protestant carnival in the world."
Nowadays the Carnival of Basel is less about religion and more about fun for everyone. The timing makes it convenient to come and visit after another carnival somewhere else.
Cliques and Gugge bands
Cliques (typically playing the piccolo flutes and drums) and Gugge bands (playing brass instruments and drums) are some of the groups actively participating in Fasnacht.
Clique resting on Barfüsserplatz
Some of the groups have a very long tradition and are proudlly displaying it on their lanterns, costumes, and instruments.
Guggemusig band celebrating its 55th anniversary
Joor means "year" in the Basel dialect
A mask, or Larve, is a must-have element of the Fasnacht costume, and is oftentimes a very elaborate creation. From the traditional Waggis, through masks inspired by military helmets, all the way to strange and sometimes weird ones - every expression of Fasnacht participants' wild imagination is there to be found.
Waggis throwing roses at girls
There are two big parades, called Cortège, during Fasnacht. That is when the Clicques and Gugge bands march around the city center, playing their drums, piccollo flutes, and other wind instruments.
Barfüsserplatz during Cortège on Wednesday afternoon
Each group has its own style of costumes and is playing its own music.
It's hard to show how dynamic these pageants are with static photos. There is a lot of energy and motion, and loud music with each band passing by.
Bum! Bum! Brrrum!
Sujet is French for "theme." The Fasnacht is full of humor and irony, and directly addresses any current events, issues, everyday life, and policitcs.
Themes range from global ones - like the most presidential President and the supreme Leader on this lantern,
to country-wide, or related to somewhat complicated relationship between Switzerland and the European Union... all the way to local, and very local Sujets (Tram Line 3 now runs to Saint-Louis in France! Yep, that's crossing the border between Switzerland & France).
This must be my favorite part. Cliques choose their Sujets and prepare lanterns, which they meticulously decorate and put on display on the Cathedral Square (Münsterplatz).
A latern in the evening
The Lanterns exhibition is a great display of beautiful graphics and typically highly ironic texts that comment on Sujets chosen by different Clicques. They are lit from the inside in the evening, creating a truly magical open air art display and a kind of satirical magazine in one.
A row of lanterns on Münsterplatz
Carnival badge, or Plakette, is different every year and everyone participating in the carnival is supposed to wear one. Plakette has its own topic every year - in 2018 it is "the post is getting off!", reflecting on the changing role of post offices in today's life. There is a design contest every year to create one for the next Fasnacht.
Badges can be bought before and during the celebrations. They come in four versions, from the most accessible copper one (9 CHF) all the way up to a gold one and a special "Bijoux" badge. All the money from selling these badges goes towards the organization of Fasnacht. It is a nice souvernir, too.
My Plakette this year
Confetti, or Räppli in the local dialect, are literally everywhere. They're being thrown at spectators during Cortgège in huge amounts. They form a thick carpet on the streets during the carnival.
Confetti on the street
As a spectator you find it in various places weeks after the carnival - stuck in your pockets, bags, shoes.
If you are not wearing a Plakette during Fasnacht celebrations, you're risking getting a big handful of confetti inside your jacket and shirt from Waggis!
Waggis have a penchant for chasing girls and showering them in confetti
Three finest days
Basel Fasnacht is referred to as drey scheenschte Dääg in the local dialect. It means "three best/finest/most beautiful days" (of the year). And they surely are for a lot of carnival participants and spectators!
Wednesday evening mood
Some links to read more about Basler Fasnacht:
- Fasnachts Comité is the official organizer and has tons of information
- Carnival of Basel on Wikipedia
- Carnival of Basel on Basel Tourism pages
Till the next year!