Saturday, 23 February 2008

Basler Fasnacht - Morgestraich

Basel celebrates its Carnival, called the Basler Fashnacht in German, one week after everyone else, possibly to differentiate itself from the Catholic carnival celebrations elsewhere. Basel would be our furthest trip within Switzerland, and we hired a car so we could see some of the countryside as we traveled North from Lac LĂ©man.

Switzerland isn't a very big country, and it only took us about three hours of driving to get from Vevey to Basel, stopping on the way at Augusta Raurica, a Roman settlement that is the oldest in Switzerland. Having already been to Pompeii and Herculaneum in Italy, however, it was difficult to get too excited about the ruins at Augusta Raurica.

After stopping to see the Action Painting exhibition at the Fondation Beyeler Riehen, we continued up to Basel and parked our little fortwo Smart car near the gates of the old town and wandered in on foot. There was already groups of masked people marching through town, playing piccolos and carrying the covered lanterns that would be lit up at 4am the next morning for Morgestraich (an essential part of the festival) .

Linda has a friend in Basel, with whom she had worked before, and we met up with them for a delicious dinner and generous helpings of red wine. We went to bed completely stuffed and perhaps a little drunk. When we woke up at 3:30am the next morning to walk into town and see the lanterns we may even have still been a little tipsy as we didn't feel as cold as you might expect at 4am in the middle of winter in Switzerland.

The town was completely packed with people, both masked and unmasked, and at 4am precisely the lights in town went out, the lanterns turned on, and the music started playing. It was a complete crush of people and it took us forever to push our way down through the narrow streets to the town square. It was amazing the lantern carriers and their escorts were able to make any headway themselves and there was a fair amount of shoving involved in their progress.

In 2002 the Basler Stadtwerke turned the streetlights off too early at
03:59am. Nonetheless Fasnacht went on until Thursday 4:00am. Therefore the 2002 Fasnacht lasted 1 minute longer that usual.

With the dark and the crowds it wasn't until the following days when we saw the lanterns all lined up that we got an appreciation for the scale of the event.

After about an hour and a half of this we decided it was time to call it a night. I think it is accurate to say the Morgestraich is something you really have to do if you come to the Basler Fasnacht, but probably just the once.

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