Tuesday, February 12, 2008


Yesterday, my husband and I participated in my very favorite Fasnacht parade. Every year, on the Monday after Ash Wedsnestdy, the city of Basel, Switzerland (just an hour and a half away from us) opens their 3-day Fasnacht celebration with a very unique parade: the Morgestraich.

This parade begins Monday morning at 4:00 AM. Yes, you read that right: four o'clock in the AM! And the darkness of the early morning is very important for this parade becaue it's a parade of lanterns! There are many local societies called cliques who each create a large lantern for this parade. These large lanterns were hand painted with different satirical messages, mostly based on different local or world political, contraversial and other events of the past year. They are amazing! Following the large lanterns are costumed people along with a group of costumed piccolo players (a small, high-pitched flute) and they are followed by a group of costumed drum players. They are all wearing small lanterns on the tops of their heads. And some are even carrying lanterns on the ends of tall sticks. And that's it. No bands, no candy, no confetti, no waving or any kind of interaction with the crowd. Just pipes, drums and lanterns and all in the dark.

As I mentioned, darkness is very important for this parade. As the large crowd gathers throughout the streets of Basel's old city center in the middle of the night, we are all waiting for one thing: for the old city hall's clock to strike four...and at the fourth ring, the lights go out! And then the music starts...drums and piccolos playing the same, strange tunes over and over marching through the streets with their lanterns. Not only are all the street lights out, but all the homes and business in the area are asked to turn out their lights, too, so that the only light is coming from the colorful lanterns. So as these cliques slowly march past, you can just see their strange masks coming out of the darkness and all you can hear is the pipe and drum music which sounds almost creepy in the darkness.

After about 30 or 45 minutes...it starts to get really fun! The different cliques start to break off the parade route turning up and down different streets. Suddenly there is no parade route! The crowds start to break apart, too, as people start to follow behind the cliques that are turning down bare alleyways or down crowded streets, or else people will stand along the streets watching the lanterns and costumed musicians go by. Once in a while a clique will pull over to the side of a street to take a break. Then you can get a closer look at the amazing lanterns and read the commentary written on it in the local Basel dialect.

Karl and I wandered through some incredibly crowded streets getting up to close to the lanterns for a while, then will found the fairly empty church square where we decided to follow a clique made up of costumed school children for a few blocks. It was so amazing! You've never seen anything like it!

It was, however, very cold! So after wandering with the crowds and the cliques through the streets of Basel for a couple of hours, we decided to head back to the car before everything started to break apart at sunrise.

I find it amazing how this society had created a way that, for hundreds of years, they had been able to harmlessly shrug off the burden of rules and criticize what they felt was wrong in their society without repercussions, before going back to daily life, feeling better after having a little fun and getting some things off their collective chest.

Waiting for 4 am in front of the city hall:

The parade begins!

A look at some of the costumes:

Just a few of the amazing lanterns:

1 comment:

High Desert Diva said...

Looks like an incredible parade. Those masks were awesome.

It's been fun seeing the pictures you share of your life in Europe. The signs crack me up.

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