Wow, we've just experienced and survived our first Fasnacht! From the day we arrived everyone had been telling us about the Basel carnaval and how we shouldn't miss it. The excitement had been building up the last few weeks with occasional cliques marching through the street and the noise of piccolo music rising up from our downstair neighbours.
Sunday it had finally arrived, the three kings (symbol of the poshest hotel in Basel) were dressed as Waggis and the town was waiting in anticipation. Officially, Fasnacht starts on Monday morning at 4am with the Morgestraich but we went to the nearby town of Liestal on the recommendation of Matthew and Sarah. There they have a fire festival where people carry torches through the village. So we set off, a friend from work, Barry and I, found ourselves a spot close to the arch in the city wall and waited. It started with a carnival (drum/brass) band dressed in masks with fluorescent eyes...fairly spooky but the lively music made it very fun.
Then at 7.15pm all the lights went off and in the distance, we could see the first torches floating down the hill. It was a very impressive sight but the poor men and woman (and children sometimes) carrying them must have been so hot!! Interspersed with the people carrying torches were burning carts that initally fitted through the archway, but became bigger and bigger as the time went on and the firemen had to wet the archway more and more. It was an amazing sight, specially when the fire that had been contained in the arch came out into the air with flames going up 10 meters. If you were unlucky and the carts stopped in front of you, the heat was so blazing. I would strongly recommend anyone who is in Basel for Fasnacht to include this too.
Once back in town we had dinner and went to a party at the Kaserne to stay awake till 4. We positioned ourselves near Marktplatz and it was very nice standing on the street, slowly seeing all the clique emerging, putting on their masks, turning on their lanterns and all waiting for the starting time. Again, all the lights went off and after a call of "MORGESTRAICH" they started marching whilst playing their tunes on piccolo and drums. We spent about an hour watching the different groups coming past, all in their own costumes and themed lantern. It was nice but somehow I had expected something a bit less tame and organized (I guess they're Swiss after all). So cold and hungry we had a traditional piece of Ziibelewaije (onion quiche) before turning into bed.
The next afternoon after a nice brunch (including Faschtetwaije-a traditional bread with cumin seeds) we went back into town to watch the Cortege. This was much more like I excpected it to be, mad, costumes and music everywhere, lots of people throwing confetti and having a good time. We spent ages watching all the different floats, collecting oranges and sweets that were thrown in addition to the confetti. But when the rain got too hard we went to one of the clique bars that are only open this time of the year. They are decked out with decorations and sell a limited selection of food and drink....but all you need on a wet afternoon/evening. Here we had the last required Fasnacht food of Maalsuppe (browned flour soup). This was one thing I wasn't too sure about trying but I was pleasantly surprised. It's tasted like the liquid from a good stew and served with a slice of bread and some grated cheese, it's pretty good when you're cold.
Anyway, to make a long story a wee bit shorter...on Tuesday night we watched the guggi bands (drum/brass bands) perform at the Barfussenplatz and watched the display of lanterns on Munsterplatz. On Wednesday, we saw more parades, caught more oranges, got confettied lots and ate and drank in the cellar bars. All in all, it was an amazing time and feels a bit strange that it's all over now. Things are back to normal, everything is cleaned up but the occasional traces of confetti remind me that there is a different side to the neat and organized Swiss.