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CARNIVAL

in Basel

UNESCO

Intangible Cultural Heritage

of Humanity


4 72 Hours of Fasnacht

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Morgestraich

Cortège / Schnitzelbanks

Kids’ Carnival

Gugge Parade and Concert

Lantern Exhibition

Cortège / Ändstraich

Basel Fasnacht City Map

Facts & Figures

Masks and Costumes

History of Fasnacht

Badges / Committee

Fasnacht Glossary

Good to Know

BaselCard / Dates

23 Getting Here

2


WELCOME TO THE

BASEL CARNIVAL

For many people in Basel it is the highlight

of the year: Carnival, or the “three

best days of the year” (drei scheenschte

Dääg) as many like to call it, when young

and old take to the streets, make music,

celebrate, and enjoy the brief period of

jester’s licence.

The Basel carnival, or Fasnacht, is a grand

spectacle of colour, costumes, and sounds

that contributes to the city’s identity like

no other event. Not only do countless locals

feel a deep connection with this hallowed

tradition, it also attracts thousands

of visitors from all corners of the world.

Let yourself be carried away by the colourful

hustle and bustle in Basel’s streets,

alleys, and pubs. Even if you’re only a

bystander you’ll get to know a lot about

local customs and traditions even though

the Basel dialect and sense of humour

might prove a bit confusing. But one

thing’s for sure: it’s an event you’ll not

forget!

The Fasnachts-Comité

and Basel Tourismus

3


72 HOURS OF FASNACHT

The Basel Fasnacht is the largest carnival

in Switzerland. Traditionally it starts at

four o’clock sharp in the morning of the

Monday after Ash Wednesday, and goes

on for precisely seventy-two hours.

As chaotic and confusing the Basel

Fasnacht may seem to outsiders, it is

in actual fact quite a structured and

organized event. The carnival season

opens between Xmas and New Year when

the motto of the upcoming Fasnacht is

revealed and the new badge (Blaggedde)

is presented, and continues throughout

January with various stage events. During

this period, the various formations also

work on the sujet* they plan to play out

during carnival.

For the active participants, Fasnacht

commences on Sunday evening when the

cliques* usher in their new lantern to the

sound of piccolos, before it really takes

off before dawn on Monday morning at

the Morgestraich.

This pivotal event is followed by two

days of large parades through town

(Monday and Wednesday); on Tuesday it

is time for the kids’ carnival, the lantern

exhibition on Münsterplatz, the exhibition

of floats and props on Kaserne square,

and the Guggenmusik* concerts. In the

evenings, often until the early hours of

morning, the attention is on so-called

Gässle*. These are the inviolable cornerstones

of Basel’s “three exceptional days”.

Terms marked with a * are explained in the glossary

on pages 18/19.

4


HUMOUR, CREATIVITY, AND

SOCIAL CRITIQUE

The development of the Basel Fasnacht

as a form of protest against a repressive

ruling class lent it its special character

for which it is famous well beyond the

boundaries of Switzerland today. This

background also explains the typical spite

and satire of Basel carnival humour. Relying

on wit and irony, carnivalists poke fun

at everything that went wrong in politics,

culture, and society over the last year.

CARICATURE AND ART

Be it the costumes or the lanterns: the

cliques* enact their sujet* to the very last

detail, celebrating the art of caricature to

the fullest. Numerous famous painters

once laid down the foundations of this

tradition – a tradition that is now carried

on each year by countless artists and

designers in the same spirit.

UNESCO CULTURAL

HERITAGE

In 2017, UNESCO added the Basel Fasnacht

to its representative list of Intangible

Cultural Heritage, thus paying tribute

to the rich tradition and singularity of this

three-day event. What makes it so impressive,

according to UNESCO, is its unique

blend of music, written and oral forms of

expression, and artisanal outputs.

5


Monday, 4am

MORGESTRAICH

The magic moment

On Monday after Ash Wednesday, the town rises at four o’clock

sharp to the Morgestraich, the impressive start to the Basel

Fasnacht. Upon the fourth chime of St Martin’s church, all

the lights go off in the inner city. At the drum majors’ command

of “Morgestraich: vorwärts, marsch!”, the alleys and the

streets spring to life with the sound of hundreds of piccolos

and drums. All the cliques* open with the Morgestraich, a very

traditional and archaic marching tune, which is only played on

this occasion. The only light in the blacked-out streets comes

from the myriad of lanterns that accompany the pipers and

drummers, alighting the faces of thousands of spectators at the

side of the streets, many of them from abroad: a truly magical

moment!

What started in the 19th century as a simple procession of

drums and torches, has in the meantime become a total artistic

and musical experience. The flickering torches of then have

been replaced by extraordinary works of lantern art, while the

simple sound of military pipes and drums has been transformed

into music of almost concert level.

6


Monday, 1.30pm – 6pm

CORTÈGE

The large parade

On Monday and Wednesday afternoon it is time for the large

street parade, the so-called cortège, when roughly 11,000

maskers play out their sujet* in fixed formations of varying size.

Unlike the Morgestraich, the cortège is an event for all Fasnacht

formations, that is, large and small cliques*, huge floats, individual

maskers (Ainzelmasgge*), Guggenmusik* bands, groups of

masks, and elegant horse-drawn carriages (chaises).

In some cases, a formation’s sujet* is already recognizable from

a distance – namely on the large lantern that precedes each

traditional clique*. The sujet* is also represented and reflected

in the head-masks (Larve*), costumes, and props (Requisiten*).

Behind the lantern and the so-called Vortrab (vanguard) come

the pipers, the drum major, and finally the drummers.

In the evenings

SCHNITZELBANKS

One of the most salient features of the Basel Fasnacht are

the so-called Schnitzelbanks. The satirical rhyming songs are

regarded as the epitome of carnival humour. The Schnitzelbank

singers, who usually also write the songs, comment on political

and social events that occurred over the last year in elegantly

rhymed and witty verses, usually spiced up with a sound portion

of satire and a pinch of humorous malice.

Schnitzelbank singers perform in restaurants and theatres on

Monday and Wednesday evening, on Tuesday evening also in

clique cellars and private houses. Just as important as the songs

are the illustrations that go with them, the so-called Helge;

each song comes with its own picture which is held up to the

audience. A good illustration provides hints to the song’s theme,

but without disclosing the punchline.

Terms marked with a * are explained in the glossary on pages 18/19.

7


Tuesday afternoon

KIDS’ CARNIVAL

On Tuesday afternoon, the city centre is again

caught up in the hustle and bustle of Fasnacht,

but now it’s the children’s turn. In small groups,

kids accompanied by parents, grandparents,

and other grown-ups practise the traditions

of Fasnacht. Dressed in imaginative costumes

and equipped with drums, musical instruments,

and small handcarts they roam the streets,

distribute Dääfeli (sweets) and Zeedel, witty

leaflets they’ve written themselves, and shower

the spectators with Räppli*. In turn, adults,

too, make use of the day to celebrate carnival

unconstrained by the strict schedule of the

cortège, in loose formations and wearing their

favourite personal mask and costume.

Terms marked with a * are explained in the glossary on pages 18/19.

8


Tuesday, from 6.30pm

GUGGE PARADE AND CONCERT

On Tuesday evening, the town is in the hands of the Guggenmusik*

bands. A part of the roughly 60 brass bands equipped with

ear-shattering trumpets, trombones, tubas, drums, kettledrums,

and cymbals convene at Exhibition Square around 6.30pm. From

there they parade through Clarastrasse towards the city centre

and the three large squares (Barfüsserplatz, Marktplatz, and

Claraplatz) where they perform on specially erected stages. The

popular and eagerly awaited Gugge* concerts are staged between

7.30 and 10.30pm but most of the bands also play before and

after the main event in restaurants and on squares across town.

On this evening, the piper and drummers give way to the

Guggenmusik* bands and retreat to the small alleys away from

the main streets and squares.


Monday evening until Wednesday morning

LANTERN EXHIBITION

After the parade on Monday afternoon, the cliques* display their

elaborately designed lanterns on the Münsterplatz. Featuring

the visualized sujets*, the lanterns reveal their true magic after

dark when they are lit for the first time after Morgestraich. They

come in many forms and styles. Some bear the unmistakable

signature of regular artists, others are painted by laymen and

-women. Today, new techniques and innovative materials are

being employed increasingly. What once began with caricatures

of well-known Basel politicians and personalities has over the

last decades developed into a true art historical digest.

EXHIBITION OF FLOATS

AND PROPS

Some of the large floats and props (Requisiten*) that feature in

the cortège can be admired at the Kaserne where they are on

display throughout the day on Tuesday.

10


Wednesday, 1.30pm – 6pm and Thursday 4am

CORTÈGE AND ÄNDSTRAICH

On Wednesday, the cortège takes to the streets again from

1.30pm. As on Monday, the parade is not restricted to traditional

music groups. It also includes large floats on which the group’s

sujet* is played out with the help of elaborate and fancy superstructures.

The maskers who man the floats distribute flowers –

usually mimosa – oranges, and sweets among the spectators, but

they also love to shower the crowds with a rain of confetti.

Most cliques* are headed by a so-called Vortrab (vanguard)

whose job it is to clear the way for the advancing formation.

Members of the Vortrab also hand-out Zeedel, leaflets on which

the clique’s* Fasnacht theme is explained in witty verses.

Fasnacht ends as it began on Monday morning with a set ritual.

Piping and drumming along with Guggenmusik* continues until

four o’ clock on Thursday morning, the so-called Ändstraich,

when each formation for itself celebrates the end of Fasnacht

with a final, specially chosen performance.

Terms marked with a * are explained in the glossary on pages 18/19.

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BASEL CARNIVAL

CITY MAP

KASERNE

MITTLERE BRÜCKE

MARKTPLATZ

MÜNSTERPLATZ

BARFÜSSERPLATZ

Tourist Information

WETTS

BRÜCK

BAHNHOF SBB

Tram 2/8/10/11

Buses 30/50/48

AESCHENPLATZ

Tram 3/8/10/11/14/15

Buses 37/80/81

12


KASERNE

CLARAPLATZ

MESSEPLATZ

BADISCHER

BAHNHOF

Tram 2/6

Buses 30/36/46/55

WETTSTEINPLATZ

Route of cortège

Monday and Wednesday from 1.30pm

Route of Gugge* parade Tuesday 6.30pm

WETTSTEIN-

BRÜCKE

Sales points

Fasnacht badges, Rädäbäng* and Zeedel

Lantern exhibition

Monday evening until Wednesday morning

Exhibition of floats and props Tuesday

Reserved seats for people with a reduced

mobility during the cortège.

• In the city centre, most shops are closed during the cortège.

• Schnitzelbank troupes perform in the evening in pubs, clique

cellars, and some theatres.

• Fasnacht badges are sold at stalls run by the Fasnacht

Committee, at the two tourist office outlets located at the

Stadtcasino and the Swiss railway station SBB, and by

vendors in the streets.

13


FACTS & FIGURES

ABOUT THE BASEL FASNACHT

The Basel Fasnacht attracts more than

200,000 VISITORS every year.

Roughly 11,000 MASKERS take part in the

cortège. At least as many prefer to parade

with no fixed route through the streets and

alleys of the Old Town.

Around 500 FASNACHT FORMATIONS

take part in the official cortège each year.

TWO MONTHS before the “three best

days of the year”, beginning in January, a

number of pre-Fasnacht events are staged

at various theatres in town.

More than 500,000 WORKHOURS are

invested in Fasnacht each year on a voluntary

basis – roughly 100,000 of them in the

service of children and adolescents.

14


MASKS AND COSTUMES

At the Basel Fasnacht, active participants

hide their true identity under a Masgge

(full-body mask) according to the unwritten

laws of Fasnacht. The head-mask is

referred to as Larve*; up to this day, most

of them are still elaborately handcrafted.

Many groups still design and create

their own costumes and head-masks.

One distinguishes between three types

of costumes: parade costumes (which

lend expression to a formation’s current

sujet*), classical costumes, and individual

fantasy costumes.

Classical costumes include the Waggis (a

parody of an Alsatian peasant), the Alti

Dante (an “old aunt” from the Biedermeier

period), the Blätzlibajass (modelled on

the Bajazzo, the classical buffoon from

the Comedia dell’ arte, with a costume

made of hundreds of scraps of cloth), the

Ueli (based on the figure of a medieval

jester), and the Dummpeter (originally a

trumpeter from the Rococo period).

Terms marked with a * are explained in the glossary

on pages 18/19.

15


A GLIMPSE INTO

THE HISTORY OF

FASNACHT

Like with most carnival

customs, the roots of the

Basel Fasnacht trace back to

ancient Celtic and Germanic

origins and practices relating

to ancestor worship, fertility

rites, and the expulsion of

winter. Later it was also influenced

by such events as medieval

jousts, military musters

organized by the city’s guilds,

and religious festivals before

Lent. When, during the age of

Reformation, merrymaking

and feasting were increasingly

restricted, even banned

at times, the Basel Fasnacht

gradually developed into a

display of resistance against

the city’s authorities.

In the 19th century, the nature

of Fasnacht began to change.

The first cliques* were formed,

Schnitzelbank singers made

their appearance for the first

time, and piping and drumming gradually became

the hallmark of Fasnacht. The parades

became more political and gradually adopted

their typical satirical bent.

Fasnacht as we know it today took on its

shape above all in the course of the latter

half of the 20th century. In the years after the

Second World War, many new cliques* were

established, the quality of piping and drumming

rose to new levels, while the costumes

and head-masks (Larve*) took on their typical

Basel touch. New traditions and rituals sprang

up which are still celebrated today as if they

had existed already for centuries.

Terms marked with a * are explained in the glossary on pages 18/19.

16


COMMITTEE

The Fasnacht Committee, founded in 1910,

consists of ten to fifteen honorary members

and is responsible for the organization of

the “three best days of the year”. It provides

services to the groups involved in Fasnacht

and mediates between the interests of

the Fasnacht, the general public, and the

authorities.

BADGE

The Blaggedde (Fasnacht badge) in the shape

of a brooch enjoys high repute in Basel.

It is considered a small work of art with the

ability to convey the motto of the current

Fasnacht in a single image. The proceeds

from the sale of the Blaggedde is also the

Fasnacht’s main source of income.

17


FASNACHT GLOSSARY

Clique

Umbrella term for all groups actively involved

in Fasnacht. These include traditional,

piccolo and drum formations (often divided

into a main section, Stammclique, an “old

guard”, and a “young guard”), loosely

organized groups of pipers and drummers,

as well as Guggenmusik bands, floats, and

carriages (Chaise).

Gugge / Guggenmusik

Short for Guggenmusik band; brass band

accompanied by percussion instruments that

plays popular tunes and hits with verve but

slightly off-key. The band is usually headed

by an impressive drum major.

Sujet

Specific theme chosen by a clique which it

plays out during Fasnacht; usually a local,

national, or international topic that has

given rise to discussion and criticism over

the last year.

Larve

Basel dialect term for head-mask.

Requisit

Prop consisting of different parts that illustrates

the clique’s sujet. The prop makes up

part of the clique’s formation and is drawn in

a handcart during the cortège.

18


Räppli

Basel dialect term for confetti

Gässle

Playing music and parading through the

alleys of the Old Town with no fixed route.

Ainzelmasgge

Term for a person in full costume who performs

alone during Fasnacht.

Määlsuppe, Kääs- and Ziibelewaie

Local terms for roasted flour soup, cheese

pie, and onion pie, favoured dishes at the

Morgestraich but also served on other days

during Fasnacht.

Rädäbäng

The official guide to Fasnacht is published

two weeks before Fasnacht and lists all the

upcoming events and respective sujets. The

brochure is sold at the Fasnacht Committee’s

sales points at Barfüsserplatz, Marktplatz,

and Claraplatz and in Sutter bakery shops.

Schyssdräggziigli

Small group of pipers and/or drummers that

gets together spontaneously but does not

take part in the cortège.

19


GOOD TO KNOW:

Dos and Don’ts at the Basel Fasnacht

«Not without a badge»

Being the only way to make a small financial

contribution to Fasnacht, wearing a badge

(Blaggedde) is a matter of honour.

No flash photography during Morgestraich

Complete darkness is a prerequisite of Morgestraich.

Brightly lit windows, neon signs, and

other sources of light ruin the magic completely.

Consequently, flash photography is an absolute

taboo.

All or nothing

At the Basel Fasnacht, the only people to wear

costume are the active participants – onlookers

are asked to keep a low profile. Colourfully

painted faces, false noses, and wigs are a no-go,

except for children.

No confetti on maskers

Please don’t throw confetti at the maskers – it

makes breathing under the head-mask extremely

difficult. Also, do not pick up confetti from

the street and throw it around.

Do not throw things into the crowd

Waggis and other figures on floats like to throw

oranges and sweets into the crowd. Do not

throw them back or into other parts of the audience,

under any circumstances.

Give way

Enjoy Fasnacht with the due respect. Masked

groups and individuals always have the right of

way, so don’t hinder them, and please do not

form human chains.

Terms marked with a * are explained in the glossary

on pages 18/19.

20


Upgrade for overnight guests

THE BASELCARD FOR FREE

Visitors to Basel receive their personal guest card upon

checking in at the hotel. It not only entitles you to free public

transport and free use of the guest WiFi, the BaselCard also

means a 50 % discount on admission to Basel museums, the

zoo, the theatre, along with other benefits such as renting an

e-bike for just CHF 20 a day. Get your e-bike from the Rent a

Bike office at the SBB main train station.

www.basel.com/en/BaselCard

MORGESTRAICH UP TO 2025

• 2 March 2020

• 22 February 2021

• 7 March 2022

• 27 February 2023

• 19 February 2024

• 10 March 2025

21


We wish to thank the following

sponsors for their support:

Imprint

Edition: December 2019

Published by: Fasnachts-Comité Basel

/ Basel Tourismus

Texts and editorial work:

Maja Hartmann, VVH Basel

Visual design: Domo Löw

Translation: Nigel Stephenson

Print: Druckerei Dietrich AG.

Published in: G/E/F

Photo credits:

Pages 1/2/6/10/11/24:

Basel Tourismus, Schweiz Tourismus

Pages 4/9/14/17 above:

Foto Mimmo, Basel

Page 7: Philipp Neth

Page 8: Ivo Birrer, Basel

Page 15: Historisches Museum Basel

Page 23: maboart, Basel

For the sake of easier readability, we use the male form in our texts but,

of course, women and men are addressed equally.

22


GETTING HERE

Visitors to the Basel Fasnacht are advised to

come on foot or use public transport. Best leave

your car at home or use one of the car parks

at the edge of town. The bus and tram schedules

are duly adapted to the high visitor volume.

During the cortège on Monday and Wednesday,

some road sections are closed completely for

a few hours. The buses and trams are rerouted

accordingly. Overnight guests benefit from

their BaselCard which entitles them to free

usage of buses and trams during their entire

stay in Basel.

Getting to Basel from afar is also easy, owing to

Basel’s central location in Europe and excellent

flight and rail connections. The EuroAirport

is only 15 minutes away from the city centre.

The same goes for Basel’s three train stations,

the Swiss main train station SBB, the French

train station SNCF, as well as the German train

station Badischer Bahnhof, all of which are in

walking distance to the town centre.

23


www.basel.com

www.fasnachts-comite.ch

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