Fribourg, Freiburg, A Charming Town And Lots Of Fun In Any Language

Founded in 1157, Fribourg was a sovereign republic until it joined the Swiss Confederation in 1481. Fribourg sits in a valley between lakes and mountains with the Saane river (Sarine in French) flowing through it. It is a gorgeous setting, but this is Switzerland, where picturesque settings abound.  We’ve gotten accustomed to the incredible beauty and now almost expect it.  Fribourg did not disappoint.

Fribourg isn’t large (population 40,000), but is charming.  It is home to the University of Fribourg.  This gives the city a slightly more cosmopolitan atmosphere and the vibrancy of a university town.   It’s medieval neighborhoods are well-preserved and charming.  The buildings show a blend of French and German Swiss culture.

Fribourg is known for its beautiful Gothic buildings.  Its old patrician townhouses combine German baroque and French classicism.  They have tons of detail, from stone carvings to ornate doors, to places to scrape your shoes.  Architectural buffs and home decor enthusiasts will love them.

Wander the small, steep streets and medieval staircases.  If you get tired, you can easily stop at a cafe in one of its many cobblestoned squares adorned with fountains.  Fribourg also has a funicular for those less enthusiastic about urban hiking.

Walk across Fribourg’s beautiful bridges.  The Pont de Berne, is a well-preserved covered wooden bridge dating from 1580.  The solid, yet elegant, Central Bridge links the old town with opposing cliffs.

Crossing the river and climbing the hill on the opposite side yields stunning views of Fribourg’s Old Town.  The St. Nicholas‘s Cathedral  lofty 15th-century Gothic bell tower is also easily visible on the skyline.

The city hall’s (Hôtel de Ville) gothic clock tower dates from 1546 (the blue pointy thing).  On Wednesdays, the square in front of city hall houses a market.  The nearby Rue de Lausanne is a car-free pedestrian zone.

Fribourg is not just the name of the city.  It is also the name of the canton (like the state).  The canton of Fribourg is bilingual with the Saane river (Sarine in French) forming the language boundary. On one side, they speak French, on the other, Swiss  German. All road signs in the Canton are bilingual!

Fribourg is the French speaking of the city.  Freiburg is the German spelling, but is not commonly used to avoid confusion with the German town of Freiburg.

It is worth taking at least an afternoon to wander Fribourg’s streets.  We plan on returning to spend an evening there.

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Why Fasnacht, Basel’s Carnival Celebration Takes Place After Ash Wednesday?

FasnachtBasel’s Carnival celebration, starts the Monday after Mardi Gras and Ash Wednesday.  Carnival in Rio, Mardi Gras in New Orleans, Carnival in Venice, and the overwhelming majority of Carnival celebrations end on Fat Tuesday with the start of lent on Ash Wednesday.  Why then does Basel’s Carnival take place the week after lent has started?  There are several theories.

It is thought to be Protestant Basel’s response to the Catholic idea of giving up things for Lent.  As Protestants they believe in moderation all the time.  Throwing one heck of a party and indulging of all manners of excess only to renounce them doesn’t fit with their philosophy.  Some argue that it is this aversion to lent that causes them to hold it later.

Others argue that it is a desire to provoke neighboring Catholics, who are already fasting.

Basel’s Carnival celebrations began a half-week after Ash Wednesday even before the reformation.  In Basel, Lent did not begin until the week after Ash Wednesday because people fasted on Sundays as well (to achieve their 40 days of fast).  This would also explain why Basel’s Carnival begins on Monday mornings.

Some Swiss say Baslers do it just to be difficult and/or different.

By the way, other towns with Fasnacht include: Bern, Liestal, Luczern, Olten, Rapperswil, Constance, Oltn, Winterthur, and Weil der Stadt.

 

What Makes Basel’s Carnival Different?

Basel has the only Protestant Carnival celebration in this part of the world.  As a result, they do things a bit differently.  Don’t worry, it is still tons of fun.  Here are some of the ways in which Basel’s carnival is unique:

  • The instruments in Basel are mainly fifes/piccolos/flutes and drums.  This makes the music reminiscent of military tattoos.
  Most of the songs sound like they were composed to march to.  I even recognized a couple (Dixie and Battle Hymn of the Republic).

  • Some carnival celebrations are an orgy of drunkenness, license and excess.  Basel’s Protestant character and general Swissness means that obnoxious behavior, lewdness and inappropriately revealing attire are unwelcome.  Unlike more fleshy and raucous celebrations, imagination, satire, wonder and magic are the order of the day.

  • The Reformation made efforts to suppress the carnival.  During the 16th and 17th centuries, the Catholic church also tried to end it because of its subversive aspects.  During this time, celebrations continued in the form of a “feast day”.  For this reason, Basel’s carnival is not called Carnival, but instead Fastnacht (which refers to the fast after the feast).  Military guilds were involved in these celebrations and influenced today’s celebrations.  Doubtless, the marching by numberous organized groups, the fife and drum music and the tattoo-like parading were all influenced by them.

  • German immigrants brought carnival traditions with them.  You see their influence in the lanterns, elaborate parades, floats and marchers displaying large caricature heads (that often lampoon public figures and politicians).

  • Enormous float-size lanterns satirically depict current topics and public figures.  Many of this year’s floats addressed the financial crisis.

  • Poets and songwriters compose humorous commentary on current affairs, much of which lampoons politicians. They recite them in pubs and play the songs in the street.  These are written in the Basel dialect, so that only locals can understand the airing of the city’s dirty laundry.

 

Fasnacht (Basel’s Carnival) Is Days Of Fun

On the Sunday night after Mardi Gras, Carnival celebrations (known as Fasnacht) in the Basel area, start at the nearby town of Liestal, with Chienbesen, a huge, bonfire parade.  Fire lights up the cobblestoned streets and cast shadows.  Eventually, participants return to Basel for the famous Morgestraich parade of lanterns through the city centre.  It starts at 4:00 a.m. and continues for several days.

Approximately 12,000 people take part in the festivities!  A Carnival Committee with select Cliques to participate in the celebration.  Each Clique makes giant cartoonish papier-mâché masks, costumes, lanterns and usually a float.  Most Cliques design theirs around a theme.

The streets were already packed when we arrived at 3:20.  We made our way to the center of town, wondering where we needed to go to observe the festivities.  In broken German, I asked someone where to go to see Fasnacht.  They responded “anywhere.”  At the time, I didn’t find it particularly helpful, but they were right.  People line the streets and it wasn’t hard to find the floats.  We wandered up the empty streets, past the sidewalks packed with people until we found an empty space where we could stand.  People who were much better prepared had staked out any and all available high ground from to view the parade.

Right on cue at 4:00 a.m., the parade started.  It was magical, worth the sleeplessness (even while nursing a cold), and something I know we will never forget.  Post-parade, participants and observers alike crowd into bars and restaurants fill Basel’s bars and cafes to warm up, hydrate and fill their bellies.

The streets do not remain silent for long.  The Cliques resume strolling the streets, but in a less organized way following a seemingly random route. This is known as ‘Gässle’. People wander the streets following them.

Although it probably doesn’t have the racousness of Rio’s streets during carnival, it has a cheery, warm, even joyous vibe.

Cliques have to take breaks.  I did a bit of investigation to find out how they keep warm and their energy up.

Not all participants dipped into the sauce.  We saw many children playing instruments and marching.  There were so many of them that we joked flute and drums were the only music instruments taught in Basel’s schools.  Seriously, there were thousands upon thousands of musicians playing those two instruments (and doing it quite well).

There are several more parades during which Waggis throw goodies to the crowds.  Waggis are hardly incognito.  They have gigantic plaster heads with bibulous noses and large frizzy wigs.  They also roam the streets, sneaking up on, chasing people and showering them with confetti (and in some cases stuffing it down their backs).

They only throw single colored, not multi-colored, confetti.  Back in the day confetti sellers decided to only sell single colored confetti so that people could tell if confetti was reused (aka, scooped up off the dirty ground).  Once fresh confetti was easily identifiable, using anything else became taboo.  Confetti sellers are still patting themselves on the back over that one.

Courtesy of badische-seiten.de

Finally, Gugge, a sort of concert by brass bands that morphs into a musical parade, start-up and continue past midnight.  In the evening while the Gugge’s roam the streets, Schnitzelbank singers entertain the revelers with satirical songs and verse about current events in restaurants and bars.

Morgestreich, An Early Morning Parade During Basel’s Carnival Celebration

Basel, Switzerand’s Carnival celebration, Fasnacht, starts with the Morgestraich parade at four o’clock on the Monday morning after Ash Wednesday.  When clocks strike four, the entire city goes black.  When the streetlights go out, a magical atmosphere envelops the city and the tens of thousands assembled to watch gasp.

Lanterns are lit and fife and drum music starts to waft through the streets.  Masked marchers in strange, whimsical costumes, and large caricature heads form eerie processions through the streets.

Each group has their own costume, theme music and immense float-like lantern  (that requires four large men to carry them).

Some marchers carry colorful lanterns attached to the ends of long poles.

Floats and marchers displaying large caricature heads often lampoon regional and national politicians.  Many of this year’s themes were financial.

Although the streets are crowded, the atmosphere is warm, festive and mysterious.  At five o’clock the city lights come back on, marchers and spectators take a break and warm themselves at inns and taverns.  With all the bizarrely costumed patrons, it slightly resembles the bar in Star Wars.

Popular foods include: Basler Mehlsuppe/Carnival Soup (a thick brown flour soup), Zwiebelwähe (onion tart) and Fastenwähe, a caraway-seed pretzel.

Basel’s Carnival festival, Fasnacht, is one of Europe’s top 50 festivals and does not disappoint.  The atmosphere is magical and the experience unforgettable.

Swiss Immigrants

A couple of Swiss immigrants

Switzerland has one of the highest percentages of foreigners of any country in the world.  Tons of famous, and not so famous people (us) have moved to Switzerland.  They have a very, um, generous tax policy.

Resident foreigners and temporary foreign workers make up about 22% of the population (30.6% of the population is either an immigrant or first generation). Famous Swiss immigrants include: *

Courtesy of Top Gear and Hublot

Courtesy of jsp31’s Blog

Courtesy of Why Not? and OWN

For centuries, people have immigrated to Switzerland.  In general, its immigrants have been highly skilled and/or educated.  The Swiss watch industry was fed with French Huguenot’s who fled persecution in France.  Immigrant German professors started Zurich University.  Many Italian immigrants worked on Switzerland’s great engineering projects in the Alps.

courtesy of Leopard Trek

*For you cycling fans, famous cyclists who have lived/trained in Switzerland include: Fabian Cancellara (a Swiss child of Italian immigrants, until recently he was my most popular post), Oscar Freire, Francisco Mancebo, Jan Ullrich, Christophe Moreau, Cadel Evans, Markus Burghardt, Andreas Klöden, Linus Gerdemann, Thor Hushovd, Daniele Nardello, and Thomas Frei.

 

Saas (Not SaaS) Fee, Another Cute Swiss Ski Town

Sorry, this post about Saas, is not about Software as a Service (SaaS), but about the town of Saas Fee, Switzerland.    While there are several reasons to go to Saas Fee, the real attraction is its location surrounded by some of Switzerland’s tallest mountains.  Saas Fee sits at over 1800 meters ( 5,905 feet, 1.18 miles) and is surrounded by over 13 peaks of over 4000 meters (13,123 feet, 2.485 miles)!

Like nearby Zermatt, it is an adorable car-free ski town with gorgeous views.   Because it doesn’t have a view of the Matterhorn (only other giant, stunningly beautiful mountains) and doesn’t have a rail stop, Saas Fee is smaller and slightly quieter.  As a result, it is a bit more of a family destination.  Don’t be fooled into thinking Saas Fee is quiet or sleepy.  Whether it is an apres-ski bar or clubbing at night, you will be able to do it in Saas Fee.

Until a two-lane road linking Saas Grund to the village of Saas Fee was completed in 1951, Saas Fee was inaccessible by car.  The buildings are a mix of modern hotels, shops and small traditional, weathered farm buildings.

We enjoyed strolling Saas Fee’s car-free streets.  It was great fun to look at the at shop windows.  Although shops keep typically Swiss hours (with the exception of ski shops), there are many and varied.

If skiing isn’t your thing, you can try curling, ice skating, indoor swimming, mountaineering, sleigh riding, indoor tennis/badminton, dog sledding/mushing tours, sledding, night sledding, snow tubing, snowshoe trekking, or ice climbing (which sounds both dangerous and beautiful).

Saas Fee is where Wham‘s “Last Christmas” was filmed.  Just click on the link to enjoy (and search for a new hairstyle).

Find Everything From the Everyday To the Eclectic At Geneva’s Plainpalais Flea Market

Historically, Plainpalais was an area outside the densely populated city of Geneva where they brought the sick to avoid contagion and an epidemic.  Located close to the Old Town and a public transportation hub, Plainpalais is now used for special events like festivals, the circus and markets.  On Wednesdays and Saturdays, there is a large flea market, marche des puces in French, there.

There are several reasons to love flea markets.  They include:

  • I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, I love a bargain.
  • Individuality.  Having the same stuff as everyone else is just plain boring.
  • It gives you a chance to buy quality things for a reasonable price.
  • Phenomenal people watching.
  • Sustainability.  Keep something from going into the rubbish bin.  Recycle it.
  • It’s free to go walk around.  It’s a great and convenient place to meet up with some friends to walk around and chat.
  • In expensive Geneva, it is a great place to pick up some cool souvenirs for your friends and family.  When the nicest girl in the world visited, she purchased a Tastevin and some beer steins to take back to her brothers.
  • Where else are you going to buy fossils, a mounted Boar’s head or old Swiss army gear?

Plainpalais flea market is a Geneva institution and has operated since 1848.  It is not as large as those in some larger European cities.  Geneva’s wealth and highly mobile population means that it makes up for it in quality.  As Geneva is home to so many foreigners from all over the world, it has a larger number of unique items from all over the world.

Here are some of the great things you can regularly find at Plainpalais:

  • Old books,
  • CD’s

  • Kitchen gadgets;
  • Dishes and cutlery;
  • Decorative and practical household wares;

  • Furniture;
  • Antiques;
  • Paintings, posters, and other great wall art;

  • Clocks;
  • Fabric, trim, sewing machines and other craft items;
  • Records;

  • Old watches and watch parts,
  • Clothing,
  • Shoes,
  • Toys

  • Suitcases, briefcases and purses;
  • A lot of the things you could find at the dollar store;
  • 1 CHF/2 CHF boxes and 5 CHF tables;

You can also find more unique higher end pieces.  Invariably, there is a constant supply of eccentric, unusual and sometimes slightly freakish pieces (see the mounted Boar’s head above).

People begin setting up as early as 8:00 (perhaps earlier but I’ve never been there earlier than that) and continues through out the day. On days with poor weather and little turnout, vendors tend to close up shop early, as early as noon.

Most items are not marked with a price.  You pick up an item you like, take it to the person that looks like they might have set up the stall and ask “how much”?  Be ready to negotiate and have coins and small bills handy.  When I go, I don’t walk around with a Starbucks cup (at 5-7 CHF/$8-10 a pop, I don’t do that here anyway).  I carry a backpack instead of a nice purse.  Why? I like to negotiate and an expensive handbag screams “quote me a higher price.”  Haggle, negotiate, be prepared to walk away, drive a hard bargain.  Oh yeah, and have fun.

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It’s Election Time In Geneva, Switzerland

Switzerland is one of the world’s oldest democracies and a direct democracy.  In a direct democracy, people vote on policy initiatives directly, instead of for a representatives who then vote on policy initiatives (a representative democracy).

Switzerland’s Parliament Building

The practical effect of this is that they vote regularly and on almost everything you can imagine.  It also means that these pop up billboards appear every few months.  He doesn’t like them because late at night, people use them to hide when there is not a readily available bathroom.  He thinks it makes the area smell like a urinal.

Elections will take place on March 11, 2012.  Here are some of the referendums they are putting to a vote:

Wednesday morning primary school for students ages 8 to 12 would be required.  For 4-8 year olds, a so-called “open school” would ensure a home school on a voluntary basis. There would be sporting, cultural or support for struggling students, but not the curriculum so as not creating a gap between students.

Last spring, parents and teachers revolted against the introduction of mandatory Wednesday morning school.  This is a compromise.  Should children have to go to school on Wednesday mornings? Oui or non?

There is an initiative on whether people should be allowed to build second homes.  Arguments for the initiative include: urban sprawl, a rise in housing prices and scarcity for indigenous families, and construction of second homes will still be permitted in areas below the listed ceilings.  Aruguments against the initiative include:  federalism, the threat of the loss of jobs, and that it is excessive.

Another issue that will be up for a vote is tax benefits for home buyers/owners.  Arguments for include: the promotion of home ownership in a country that lags behind others in this category, support to allow renters avoid liquidating their retirement savings to purchase a property, and a component that will encourage greener buildings.   Arguments against the benefits include: the government’s need for the taxes, it is ineffective in promoting home ownership, home ownership is not a measure of economic success, and it will cut other social benefits.

Should workers receive six weeks of vacation a year?   Currently, every worker in Switzerland receives a minimum of four weeks.

There are a lot of posters about a law regulating protests.  The posters for it argue that it will help ensure that protests are peaceful.  The posters against argue that it is an unreasonable limitation on speech/expression.

Finally, there is an initiate for a fixed price agreement for books.

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Thank You Freshly Pressed

Thank you Freshly Pressed for selecting my blog post, Celebrating Carnival in the Lötschental Valley, as one of your featured blogs this week.  I appreciate your recognition and support.  Another thank you goes out to all new visitors.  I am grateful for your interest and comments.