Basel Carnival

from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Waggis larva

The Basel Carnival , not only referred to as the drey scheenschte Dääg (the three most beautiful days ) by those active in it , is the largest carnival in Switzerland. It starts on the Monday after Ash Wednesday at 4 a.m. with the Morgestraich , lasts exactly 72 hours and ends on Thursday morning again at 4 a.m. with the Alter Straich . During this time, the Basel city ​​center is dominated by the carnival people who roam the streets, pubs and shops with their cliques .


The word Fasnacht goes back to the Middle High German vastnaht, meaning fasting night, the evening before Lent. In southern Germany in particular, the t was eliminated early on; in the Middle Ages, in what is now Switzerland, Fasnacht was almost exclusively written without t . From the 17th century, the German standard language was increasingly introduced as a uniform written language in what is now Switzerland, and Carnival was increasingly written with t . Only recently has Carnival been consistently written again in Switzerland without t . The Basler Fasnachtscomité changed the spelling from Carnival to Fasnacht in 1925 .

Carnival date

Originally, the carnival was a festival in order to once again “hit the wall” before the forty-day pre-Easter fasting period , full of privation, began. At the same time, the stocks of perishable food were used up. Observance of the fasting requirement was mandatory in the Middle Ages. The original Christian custom required to fast forty consecutive days before Easter Sunday . This fasting requirement was toned down by the Synod of Benevento in 1091 , so that from now on fasting could be interrupted on Sundays. But because fasting was to continue for forty days, the beginning of Lent was postponed to Ash Wednesday, six days earlier .

This change did not meet with everyone's approval, and so from then on there were two carnival dates side by side: On the one hand, the "Gentlemen's" or "Pfaffenfasnacht", which was based on the decision of the Council of Benevento, and on the other, the " Peasant Carnival " on the original date. The names already indicate that the former was mainly committed by the wealthier circles, the latter by the common people. The phrase is still in use today: Kunnsch hindedryy like the old carnival! («You're too late like the old carnival»).

The Basel Carnival takes place on the “Farmer's Carnival date”. There is still no convincing explanation to the question of when and why this prevailed in Basel. In the rest of the Alemannic area, too, many customs of the farmers' carnival have been preserved to this day. The widespread opinion that the different Carnival date is related to the change from the Julian to the Gregorian calendar is wrong. This results from the fact that 10 days were skipped when changing the calendar, which cannot be reconciled with the carnival date.

In 1529, Basel officially declared itself a reformed city. Thus, among other things, the compulsory fasting was abolished and the carnival prohibited. Unlike in other Reformed places, the authorities in Basel could not enforce the carnival ban. The Basel Carnival was the only “Protestant Carnival” in Switzerland. There are many anecdotes about how the Protestant Church preached in vain against the Carnival and the moral collapse that goes with it until recently. The authorities also tried on various occasions to forbid the carnival and sometimes imposed severe penalties, probably also because they feared the subversive potential of the carnival; but none of these bans had lasting success. The ban was partially circumvented under the guise of guild meals and guild weapon samples, which is the reason for the partly military echoes of the Basel carnival customs.

If you count back forty days in the calendar, starting from Easter Saturday (elsewhere also called Holy Saturday) as the last day of fasting, you end up with Basle Carnival Tuesday as the first day of fasting. The Basel Carnival begins on Monday on the “correct” date, but then continues into Lent. But that is not a contradiction, because on the one hand the current form of the carnival, i.e. the duration of three days, is by no means an age-old tradition, but has only developed more recently, and on the other hand, Lent has been abolished since the Reformation.

The earliest possible date for the Morgestraich is February 9th, the latest possible March 15th.


Basel Carnival 2013

The Basler Fasnacht - in the following simply called Fasnacht - is very different from the Rhenish “jecken” carnival . This is ensured by the strict separation between the active and the audience.

Each of the approximately 18,000 active carnival enthusiasts wears a costume with a larva (mask). Underneath, the face and the entire body are covered, the wearer of the costume cannot be seen. It is good form that a carnival person cannot be recognized in public. With the exception of “Morgestraich” and on Shrove Tuesday, the cliques wear uniform costumes that are mostly adapted to the subject of the clique. Often the larvae are modeled on public figures (politicians and other celebrities), sometimes also cartoon characters or animals. But there are also traditional larvae, for example those reminiscent of the French army of the Napoleonic Wars , harlequins , old aunts or the Waggis larvae, which are particularly popular with individuals and wagon groups.

The most noticeable are the piper and drum cliques. They play marches on their walk through the city center , their piccolo flutes are accompanied by the rhythm of their Basel drums . In these three days, Basel's city center will be the site of the largest whistler concert in the world. A clique usually consists of a «vocalist» (space maker), the pipers, the drum major (conductor) and the drums (drummers). The cliques do not follow any specific routes (except on the Cortège ). It always happens that the path of several cliques crosses. In that case, one clique stops and waits for the other to pass. If you stand in the way of a clique as a spectator, you will be gently pushed aside by the “vocalist”.

In addition to the whistling cliques, Guggenmusik groups with brass instruments take part in the carnival. However, these are not to be found at «Morgestraich», but only at the Cortèges on Monday and Wednesday and in the evenings, especially on Tuesday evenings at the Gugge concerts. Furthermore, many individuals and small groups roam the streets. They are known as “Schyssdrägziigli” and, for example, throw confetti (called Räppli in Basel German ) at “unsuspecting” viewers in costumes as “Waggis” or stuff it into their jackets.

Most cliques have chosen a so-called subject (French for "theme") for the carnival, which will be presented during the carnival. These are topics of contemporary history that are criticized in mostly satirical form. The subjects are shown on lanterns in the Morgestraich . At the Cortège , the costumes, larvae and often a prop are also adapted to the theme. Practically all cliques also distribute suitable Zeedel ( flyers with ironic verses).

Carnival customs and highlights


Morgestraich at the Basel Carnival 2003

The Morgestraich on Monday morning at 4 a.m. is the start of the carnival. At this point, the city center is practically completely darkened and the Basler Stadtwerke switch off the street lights. The only light comes from the lanterns of the cliques, who present their subjects on them. In front of the cliques, a large train lantern up to 4 m high is carried or pulled on a wagon. The active ones also carry a head lantern. In some cliques, these are uniform and serve as a distinguishing feature for belonging to the clique, since the carnival people on Morgestraich traditionally do not wear uniform costumes. This open dress code is called a charivari .

At the command "Morgestraich, vorwärts, March" from their drum major, the cliques set off. All cliques drum and whistle the same march first, it is called «Morgestraich». Guggenmusiken do not play on Morgestraich .

Restaurants and pubs in the city center are open at Morgestraich , many of which remain open throughout the 72 hours of Carnival. Thousands of spectators enjoy the traditional carnival dishes: flour soup and onion tart or cheese tart (a spicy flat cake with cheese, which is usually eaten warm).


Earliest known depiction of the morning prank, according to the caption on Ash Wednesday (!) 1843. The procession is still accompanied by torches. Watercolor by Hieronymus Hess

The custom of the Morgenstraich has been handed down from the 18th century, back then without lanterns, but with shooting and other noise. Drumming was not allowed until daybreak, but this time limit was not always adhered to to the same extent. After the civil war of 1833 over the separation of the cantons , the carnival was banned for the year 1834. In 1835, a new, more generous Carnival ordinance came into force, in which drumming was permitted on Monday morning from 4 a.m. Since then, this time has been considered the beginning of Carnival and is generally observed.

In the first years of the “officially permitted” Morgenstraich, the trains were accompanied by torchbearers. In 1845 the flammable torches were banned, after which they were replaced by rod lanterns. The large lanterns, which are an important part of the Morgenstraich today, came later.

Morgenstreich or Sammlung was originally called a military drum signal used to summon troops. In Basel, because of the carnival amusements , the ordinances first mentioned the term Morgenstreich in connection with the carnival in 1808 .



The Carnival parades , which take place on Monday and Wednesday afternoons through the city center, are called Cortèges . The parades run on two fixed routes, an inner and an outer, which run against each other. The parades do not go from A to B , like the Rose Monday parades in Cologne and Mainz , for example , but circulate, with each clique starting at a different location on the route. A departure point and a departure time are set, but the location and duration of the breaks are spontaneously determined. So there is no fixed order of the cliques, but this changes again and again and is not predictable. That is why the people of Basel attach great importance to the fact that this is not a move . The fact that the commonly used term “Cortège” is a French word for moving is not seen as a contradiction. Another term that is often used is “walking the route”.

During the parades, the wagon cliques show their mostly elaborately decorated carnival floats on which they have implemented their subjects. Sweets and fruit are distributed to the children from the carts and flowers are given away to girls. However, if you don't wear a “blaggedde” ( badge ), you don't even need to run into the car, you will only receive a load of “Räppli” ( confetti ).

Children's and family carnival

The children's and family carnival takes place on Tuesday. Here, too, there are parades through the city, but it is not the cliques that appear in groups, but mainly families with their children. Sometimes families who are friends have also prepared a car together. If the active come from different cliques, one sees the most different larvae (masks) together.

The children, especially the little ones, are not yet expected to completely disguise themselves in heavy costumes. The most common disguises besides traditional figures are cowboys , princesses and similar subjects.

Gugge concerts

One of the popular guggen music

On Tuesday evening, the city center and the large squares mainly belong to the Guggenmusiken , who create a good atmosphere with their brass instruments. The Guggenmusik is rhythmically accompanied by kettledrums, large and small drums, xylophones and other percussion instruments; the brass players (trumpets, trombones, tubas, etc.) do not play with pure intonation, but intentionally “wrong” or “oblique”. Large stages for the evening concerts are set up on Marktplatz and Barfüsserplatz , each of which is attended by several thousand spectators. The formations that appear at these concerts move, starting from the Messeplatz , in a large procession, making music over the Middle Rhine Bridge to Grossbasel . In addition to the two large concert stages, smaller concerts by the other formations also take place in other locations. After these concerts, the music moves freely through the streets and alleys, giving sporadic serenades, but sometimes there are also performances in restaurants and bars. During this time, the drummers and whistlers groups (cliques) mostly retreat to the side streets and outskirts of the city.

Lantern exhibition

Lantern exhibition on the Münsterplatz
In 2003, George W. Bush was a popular subject on the lanterns

From Monday evening to Wednesday morning, all the lanterns - around 200 - of the carnival cliques are on display on the square in front of the Basel Minster . The lanterns are lit in the evening; the sometimes strongly sarcastic verses on them are mostly formulated in dialect .

Exhibition of carriages and props

Also from Monday evening to Wednesday morning, the exhibition of wagons and props takes place on the barracks area . Due to the limited space available, only 25 of the 120 cars taking part in the Cortège can be exhibited. There are also around 40 props from a wide variety of groups. On Tuesday afternoons, children can take a little ride on a small Waggis wagon and should be introduced to the carnival figure "Waggis".

"Schnitzelbang" and "Zeedel"

The Schnitzelbank (in Basel German: "dr Bangg") is traditionally linked to the banter . The Schnitzelbank singers make fun of the events of the past year in an ironic to sarcastic manner, with texts sung in Basel German , sometimes accompanied by an instrument. Their contribution is mostly supported by illustrations that are presented as display boards on a «Helgen».

The Schnitzelbank can only be understood in the broadest sense as the Basel equivalent of the Büttenrede ; those correspond more to the "Zeedel", the notes with the subjects explained or glossed in verse , which the carnival cliques at the Cortège distribute to the audience on the roadside.

The Schnitzelbank singers perform regularly on Monday and Wednesday evenings in the cafés and taverns. Many can be heard today, however, on Tuesday, but then only in the clique cellars, the paragastronomic eateries of the carnival societies.


Concert of a Guggemusik

In addition to the more or less organized events such as «Morgestraich», Cortèges (parades) and Guggen concerts, there is a free form of Basel Carnival, the so-called «Gässle». Theoretically, this activity takes place during the entire 72 hours of the Basel Carnival, but is de facto non-existent during the Morgestraich and the Cortèges as well as on the three Carnival mornings (on the Morgestraich the cliques are already busy and the Guggenmusiken are not allowed, on the Cortège practically all active people are committed, rest or work in the mornings). The most intense time of the Gässle is therefore on the three carnival evenings and nights as well as the whole Tuesday (on Thursday until 4:00 a.m.). At Gässle, the clique formations have largely been dissolved, carnival people from different cliques or carnival people not belonging to a clique meet in the smallest, smaller to medium-sized groups and drumming and whistling through the streets of the city center (hence «Gässle»). The Guggenmusiken usually stay in their formation (due to the different instruments and repertoires it is difficult to form new associations on an ad hoc basis) and move through the larger streets of the city center while making music. The regular cliques also remain in their formation on Monday and Wednesday evenings. Although the instruments of the cliques are the same, there are differences in the repertoire and in the interpretation of the individual marches. The Schnitzelbangge are also on the way from pickle to pickle. There are also parodying “Waggis”, usually equipped with a large sack of “Räppli” (confetti).

"Change line"

The Alterstreich ("Endstreich") marks the end of the Basel Carnival. This largely unorganized event takes place in the last few minutes before 4 a.m. on Thursday morning. The active members return from the «Gässle» as part of their clique, with each clique choosing a different meeting point in the city center. One last time in the association, a march is whistled and drummed in a circle with a lantern (if available) in the middle, and “Frau Fasnacht” is said goodbye.

Throw «Räppli» (confetti)

According to local historians, throwing " räppli " is a typical Basel custom that has spread from there. Although this cannot be clearly proven, significantly more “Räppli” are consumed in Basel during the “three most beautiful days” than in Mainz or Cologne, for example.

As confetti ("small confectionery") were originally called sugar balls that were distributed on the parades or thrown into the crowd. However, this was banned in the 19th century. Until this ban, it was common to use chaff instead of confetti . As a substitute, scraps of paper were used. As a viewer, one must always be on guard that you're not from an revelers with Räppli showered or "stuffed" at all (large amounts of confetti are applied under the clothing) is. It is an unwritten rule that active carnival enthusiasts (in costume and larvae) are not thrown at Räppli . As a popular destination but spectators who are no plaque carry.

On the routes of the Cortèges, the Räppli cover the ground centimeter high in the evening. The next morning, the Basel city cleaning department largely swept the paper up and drove it away.

In Basel, only single-colored “Räppli” are sold in sacks. This is done for hygienic reasons, in order to prevent the «Räppli» from being picked up from the floor on which the colors mix. So whoever throws mixed-colored Räppli in Basel has picked them up from the floor.

In contrast to Basel, during the Lucerne Carnival during the Big Bang there is a large amount of confetti, the so-called “Fötzeliräge”, during which exploding sacks rain down scraps of newspaper over the crowd.

Audience / rules of conduct

In contrast to the German carnival, the audience - i.e. all persons who are not fully dressed in costume and mask and who usually belong to a Basel carnival society - play an extremely passive role. Make-up faces, disguises and other “funny” accessories are strongly frowned upon. Typically, the audience wears the usual street clothes and only shows their affiliation to the carnival by wearing the official carnival plaque. At the two cortèges (parades), the public is allowed to ask for sweets, oranges or flowers and to more or less impose them (which, however, can also lead to a load of “räppli”). During the Cortèges and the «Morgestraich», the public has to linger on the roadside, during the other times the free marching cliques have to be given precedence.

The musical and humorous performances are usually enjoyed in silence, support by singing along or rhythmic clapping (apart from applause) only takes place in exceptional cases. Taking photos with a flashlight at Morgestraich is extremely reluctant, as it significantly disrupts the atmosphere. In addition, it is extremely annoying and uncomfortable, especially for the active, to be blinded by the flashlight through the narrow viewing slits of the larvae, especially since you can't see much in the darkened streets with the covered face.

Even if alcohol is consumed during the Basel Carnival, there is no boozy mood. The excessive consumption of alcohol is frowned upon, especially by many «active people».

Participation in the official carnival events such as “Morgestraich”, Cortèges and “Guggekonzärt” is limited to the officially registered Basel carnival societies. External groups - as well as the rest of the public - are prohibited from (active) participation, but they can, provided they observe the minimum rules of the Basel Carnival (full costume with larva, as musical instruments only Basel drum, piccolo or gugge; carnival plaque), on their own initiative take part in the «Gässle» (individual carnival). Foreigners are also free to become members of a Basel carnival society; The majority of its members do not come from the city of Basel, but from the surrounding area.

Organization and financing, badge

Since 1911, the Carnival has been organized by the Carnival Committee , which acts as the official contact for all questions about the Carnival. The Comité has also been issuing the Carnival plaques («Blaggedde») since 1911. This was available in 2019 in five different versions at prices between 9 and 100 francs (copper: 9 francs, silver: 18 francs, gold: 45 francs, bijou (real silver with gold plating): 100 francs and Ueli: 20 francs). The net proceeds will be passed on to the carnival groups. Visitors are not explicitly required, but expected, to buy a badge to ensure that the groups continue to receive funding.

Carnival in numbers

In 2004 over 480 units were registered with the Fasnachts-Comité, including 141 cliques, main clubs, groups, 141 wagon cliques and chaises (carriages), 61 guggen music groups, 86 piper and drum groups as well as 55 individual masks and small groups. In total, more than 12,000 organized carnival participants took part, plus around 6,000 “wild” carnival participants who are not organized in a clique or group. A total of 185 train lanterns were carried or pulled along on a mobile frame.

Before and after the carnival

Numerous activities take place before and after the carnival. The following overview summarizes the most important recurring events.

Pre-carnival events

Pre-carnival events are often a platform for cross-carnival experiments, for example carnival musicals or concerts with carnival and non-carnival instruments. The following list shows the most popular recurring events.

  • Zofingerconzärtli of the Zofingia student association (the oldest pre-carnival event)
  • Mimösli in the Häbsetheater
  • Official award drumming and whistling
  • Pfyfferli in the Fauteuil Theater
  • Charivari in the Volkshaus
  • Räppli serenade in the Rheinpark (In 2005 the organizing associations decided that the Räppli serenade would no longer be held.)
  • Stubete in the restaurant "Atlantis"
  • Children's charivari in the Basel theater
  • Monster drum concert "Drummeli" in the Musical Theater Basel
  • Fasnachtsbändeli (for children and families), Arlecchino Theater
  • S Ridicule in the Helmut Förnbacher Theater Company in Badischer Bahnhof
  • Wirrlete , pre-carnival satire (every two years, since 2006)

Whistle in lanterns

The “Ladärne yypfyffe” (whistling in lanterns) takes place on the Sunday evening before Carnival. The (mostly) still veiled lanterns are carried or pulled from the studio where they were made to the departure point in the city center at the beginning of Carnival. They are accompanied by whistlers. The tambours (drummers) leave their instruments at home on this occasion.

Say goodbye to lanterns

Atmospheric lantern farewell

The "Ladärne vers Abschiide" (say goodbye to lanterns) takes place on the night of the Thursday of Carnival. A clique-specific ritual is played out. Most of the time the whole clique forms a circle around their “Ladärne” (lantern) and intones the Wettstein March, the Tagwacht, the Retraite , the Basel March, “Le lancier” or another composition. During the lecture, the lights inside the lantern will be slowly extinguished. This ritual usually takes place at 4:00 a.m. at the end of Carnival, but sometimes earlier in the evening, and usually in front of the local pub.


On the Saturday after the carnival, various masked balls take place, which are generally known under the name Kehrausball (short and Baslerisch: Kehruus ). In addition, many cliques hold a clique-internal sweepings ball in their clique cellars.

«Strolling Sundays»

After the carnival, all cliques (and also Guggenmusiken) go on the so-called stroll on one of the three following Sundays . This is the end of the carnival year and is usually carried out in the form of a short trip and a visit to a restaurant. In the evening, after returning to Basel, the carnival people in street clothes (unmasked and undisguised) stroll through the Basel city center, especially down the entire Freie Strasse (the most important street in the city center).

Intangible cultural heritage

Basel Carnival
Intangible cultural heritage Intangible cultural heritage emblem
State (s): SwitzerlandSwitzerland Switzerland
List: Representative list
Number: 01262
Admission: 2017

The Basel Carnival is one of the intangible cultural assets that Switzerland has included in its 2011 list of living traditions in Switzerland . In 2017 it was registered by UNESCO on the International Representative List of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity . Among other things, the award states:

Carnival contributes to social cohesion, promotes tolerance through social criticism and helps to preserve the local dialect. The tradition is passed on informally in families who have participated in it over several generations. "


  • In 1920 the carnival could only take place four weeks later because of a flu epidemic.
  • Due to an incorrectly set clock at the Basler Stadtwerke, the street lighting was switched off at 3:59 a.m. in 2002.
  • In 2006, 50 cm of fresh snow fell within a few hours on the night from Saturday to Sunday before Morgestraich, and great efforts were required to make Basel suitable for Carnival within a few hours. There has never been a carnival with more snow. Incidentally, 50 cm is the third highest amount of snow ever measured and the highest amount of new snow so far within 24 hours in Basel.
  • In 2020, the Basel Carnival was canceled a few days in advance due to the coronavirus epidemic . She would have from 2-4. March should take place. The Federal Council banned all major events.
  • There was also censorship again and again. In the 1930s and 1940s, for example, certain lanterns had to be changed because they were viewed as too provocative. For example, in 1939 the lantern of the «Schnurebegge», which showed Hitler and Mussolini , had to be painted over.


Web links

Commons : Basler Fasnacht  - collection of images, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. Schweizerisches Idiotikon , Volume I: A – F. Huber, Frauenfeld 1881–1885, Col. 645–654, article Fasnacht ( digitized version ) .
  2. ^ German dictionary by Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm, Vol. 3, Sp. 1353-1355, article Fastnacht ( digitized) .
  3. Lutz Röhrich: The great lexicon of the proverbial sayings. Freiburg i. B. 1991, vol. 1, p. 416 f.
  4. The Carnival at the end of the Middle Ages on
  5. Development of the street carnival on
  6. The story of the morning prank on
  7. ^ Prices and sales - Fasnachts-Comité. Retrieved March 11, 2019 .
  8. ^ Basel Carnival. In: UNESCO, accessed February 8, 2019 .
  9. When a virus paralyzed the Basel Carnival on
  10. The Morgenstraich is canceled : No Basel Carnival in 2020 on
  11. Dominik Heitz: Provocation and censorship at the carnival . In: Basler Zeitung . online March 12, 2011.
This version was added to the list of articles worth reading on October 3, 2005 .