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.

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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.

Tschäggättä Parade To Celebrate Carnival In The Lötschental Valley

If you go to the the Lötschental Valley‘s Carnival parade in Wilder, Switzerland, be ready for Tschäggättä to surprise and scare you.  Tschäggättä roam the streets for days before and after the parades creating mischief and scaring unsuspecting victims.

Witches sold the Lötschentaler Chiächlini, the traditional fatty, sugary Carnival/Fat Tuesday/Fat Thursday treat.  Although I couldn’t find any mention of Lötschentaler Chiächlini, I found this recipe for Swiss Carnival Cookies (Fasnachtsküchlein) that seems similar.  They were good, a cross between a donut and a cookie.  They would have been even better fresh out of the fryer.  I wanted to dip mine in chocolate.

Lots of bands helped make the atmosphere festive.  They played everything from versions of Metallica, Bon Jovi and Kiss to Lady Gaga.  It was easy to pick out the foreigners because they were they ones dancing like idiots to the music.

It must have been a long day for the marching bands and at over a mile in altitude, it was important for them to stay hydrated.

Although Tschäggättä were everywhere, there was much more to the parade.

People of all ages took part and even the smaller participants wore costumes.  Many of the floats appeared to have a political bent.  This one seemed to compare the value of the Euro to that of shredded paper or confetti.

Sarkozy is always present for discussions on the Euro.  He didn’t talk much though as he was passing out tasty beverages.

Traditionally, Tschäggättä were only the villages unmarried men.  Although there is no way of knowing who (or what) is under the furs and masks, Tschäggättä has reportedly expanded to married men and children.  These spooky figures were all women.  Their eeriness appeared better suited for haunting than mischief-making.

Both participants and onlookers had a jolly good time.  Maybe some people were having a bit too much fun.  This costumed observer was scolded by an older Swiss gentleman for kicking snow.  Über Swiss.

Costumed characters on floats tossed confetti, blew bubbles, sang and handed out drinks, cookies and candy.

I got into the fun by scooping up confetti during a lull in the action and tossing it on our unsuspecting friends.  Luckily, I was able to scoop up my wallet that went flying.  

I wasn’t the only one horsing around.  These little observers came prepared with silly string to spray on the parade’s participants.

This group chose global warming as their theme.  The tiny children dressed up as snow balls were adorable and seemed to be enjoying themselves.

The arc needed some minor repairs right in front of us.  We assisted by holding their large bottles of Sangria.  They rewarded us with some.  The costumes were an example of cultural differences.  I don’t know if we would see such painted faces or Fu Manshus in the United States.

The parade finished with a procession of over 100 Tschäggättä!

Sometimes, Carnival celebrations aren’t appropriate for children of families.  Tschäggättä managed to have something for everyone and still be tons of fun.  The atmosphere was playful, cheery and festive.  Everyone from young to old made merry in a ridiculously beautiful setting.

Tschäggättä. Tschwhata? A Swiss Valley’s Unique Carnival Celebration

Tschäggättä are frightening figures that wear furs, giant cowbells around their waists and carved wooden masks.  Every inch of the person underneath the costume is covered to prevent their recognition.  Tschäggättä walk the streets during Carnival waving large wooden sticks,  scaring and/or tossing soot (nowdays confetti) at their unsuspecting victims.  An unwritten rule, allows only unmarried men to do this.  Go figure.  Guys always try to arrange things so that they have all the fun.

It sounds like a rockin’ good time to me, but some may ask whyTschäggättä stems from a time when winter cut the Lötschental Valley off from the outside world during winter.  It was fairly isolated the rest of the year.  Like many rural places, the church dominated many aspects of daily life.   Local peasants saw the time around Carnival as an opportunity to let off some steam, an expression of anarchy and rebellion.   Or, it could come from the heathen tradition of scaring away the spirits of winter.

The legend of Tschäggättä describes them as wild men, thieves from the no longer existing town (but poorer) across the valley that would come to steal.  The thieves dressed themselves up in frightening costumes to create fear and aid in their larceny.

 

Escalade

No, I’m not talking about a giant SUV.  I’m talking about a pretty cool party. Geneva’s Escalade commemorates the Protestant city of Geneva‘s defeat of the Duke of Savoy‘s Catholic troops in 1602.
I’m not really sure, but these might be Geneva’s version of Paul Revere?  If you’re going to visit Geneva, this might be the best time to do it.  It’s a really cool festival that’s part spectacle, part party and very accessible.  You’re in the middle of it so you’ll experience it with all of your senses.  The sounds of drums and fifes echoed through the city walls, while the smell of mulled wine (vin chaud) wafted through the air.

Here’s the deal. Charles Emmanuel I the Duke of Savoy wanted Geneva’s wealth. Genevans wanted their independence.  Many of them were religious refugees and would have had no where safe to go if Geneva had fallen to Catholic France. They also wanted to keep their money instead of giving it to the Duke.

When the Duke’s troops attacked, grandma threw a pot of boiling soup over the city walls as they attempted to climb them.  She then woke up the city so that it could defend itself.  Pretty much, they celebrate not their city not being overtaken by the Savoy and not becoming part of France.

It’s historic in the best possible way.  They have parades.  The old town is lit up by people carrying torches.  They really did fire the muskets!  They were so loud.  It scared the heck out of me… and the kid next to me.  They fire cannons too.  People dress up in period costumes.  Some are even on horseback.  The Passage de Monetier, a secret passage in Geneva’s old town is open for only this one night.
How do you celebrate grandma’s victory?  In the most quintessentially Swiss way. Chocolate!  They make giant tureens (cauldrons) of chocolate with marzipan vegetables (to be like granny’s tureen of soup).  Stores like Migros and Co-op sell the “vegetables.”  I bet it’s really easy to get kids to eat these vegetables.  They also have tasty street food and (of course) mulled wine.

Children dress up in costumes, kind of like they would in the US on Halloween.  We didn’t see any risqué costumes like you do there.

The cannon was louder than the muskets.  Unfortunately, there are not enough occasions where shooting off a cannon is permitted.  If you can get away with it, it definitely says celebration (or attack). There’s also a race/run that takes place weekend of or preceding the night of the 11th It usually starts in the  Parc des Bastions, where the Savoy troops congregated before attacking the walled city, and goes through Geneva’s old town, before finishing near the start. It’s a big deal here and everyone gets involved; you’ll even see families and running together.   There’s even a youth race and a costume run.

*Escalade translates from French into English as climbing.

 

 

St. Bartholomew’s Day

Cathedral Saint-Pierre (Calvin preached here) 

Geneva was a center of Protestantism and the Reformation. The St. Bartholomew’s Day massacre, the slaughter of several thousand Huguenots (Protestants) in 1572 triggered a fast in Geneva the next year to remember those who were killed.

Reformation Wall*

St. Bartholomew’s Day is the first Thursday in September.  Over time, it lost its religious significance. It is now associated with eating plum tarts (yum).** Since this is Switzerland, banks, post offices, shops, restaurants and bars close. However, unlike Thanksgiving, which also falls on a Thursday, you don’t get a four-day weekend. I did some shopping to prepare yesterday. You should take the day off too. I will be.  He will be working, remotely.

The whole ten all lit up at night

* The people on the wall are Theodore Beza, John Calvin, William Farel and John Knox.  On one side are: William the Silent, Gaspard de Coligny and Frederick William of Brandenburg. On the other side are: Roger Williams, Oliver Cromwell and Stephen Bocskay.

**People were supposed to abstain from meat on a day of penitence, and plums happened to be in season.

 

 

Monday Was Swiss National Day

Did you work Monday?  He didn’t.  We didn’t.  Monday, August 1st was Swiss National Day (more about what Swiss National Day is in tomorrow’s post). If you didn’t get it off, make sure your boss gives you next August 1st off to celebrate. Here are ways to celebrate it:

  • Fireworks (bonus points if you have them over a lake)
  • Bonfires (preferably on a hill, mountaintop or other elevated spot)*
  • Decorate busses with flags
  • Put out special trash bags
  • Bakers produce special bread rolls with a small Swiss flag on top.  What is a holiday without a special pastry?
  • Dress up in traditional Swiss costumes
* Bonfires on hills and other elevated spot, commemorate the expulsion of foreign bailiffs in the fourteenth century.  They spread their news by bonfire in those days.