Fasnacht Carnival of Basel

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Every year the City of Basel hosts a festival called Fasnacht with its origins dating back as far as the 14th Century. It is Switzerland’s largest festival and it lasts exactly seventy­two hours. Residents refer to it as ‘the most wonderful three days’. Each year a theme is chosen by the Fasnacht Committee, this year’s is the ‘selfie’. Throughout the year groups of Fasnachtlers called ‘cliques’ meet to plan their themes, costumes, music, and lanterns for the upcoming Fasnacht.

At 4:00 am on the first day (the first Monday following Ash Wednesday) all of the old city of Basel’s lights are turned off. This event called Morgenstreich, sees masked and costumed ‘cliques’ carry their hand­crafted lit lanterns (with carved out silhouettes that mark an event from the last year) to the music of drums and piccolos as they march through the dark centre of town.

On Monday and Wednesday two main processions, called cortèges, take place, with floats carrying Fasnachtlers toss candy, oranges and other goodies along with lots and lots of confetti. Tuesday is dedicated to children and is known as the Carnival of Children which sees groups of adults and kids in costume wandering the streets with some playing instruments. Throughout the three days and nights of festivities cliques are seen taking part in ‘Gassle’ which means marching through the streets in costume playing piccolos and drums. Orchestras are also seen marching, playing both traditional ‘Gugge’ music and renditions of more popular music.

An estimated 15,000 to 20,000 masked participants take part in Fasnacht with many cliques displaying incredibly creative, sometimes political and social messages in their costumes and lanterns.

Photos and Text: Nick Kozak / UnFrame