Due to the severe earthquake of 1356, not only the city but also the documents and other written records about the history of the city and that of the carnival were destroyed.
The oldest surviving event, which in the broadest sense can be regarded as the forerunner of Carnival, dates back to 1376. In that year, a knight’s tournament took place on the day before Ash Wednesday on the city’s Münsterplatz. In the course of the tournament, which was celebrated with pomp, there were clashes between the knights and the citizens of the city. The whole thing escalated to such an extent that the citizens drove the knights out of the city by force of arms. Four of the knights were killed. As a punishment, 12 citizens were beheaded. In addition, Emperor Charles IV (1316-1378) of the Luxembourger dynasty deprived the city of the protection of the empire by imposing the “imperial ban”. This day went down in the history of the city as the “evil carnival”. Note: according to oxfordastronomy, Basel is a city of Switzerland.
Carnival, as it is celebrated nowadays, only developed into this over the years. In 1529, the time of Carnival was set on the Monday to Wednesday after Ash Wednesday and thus in the middle of the traditional Lent. This deviation from the usual carnival times is due to the following event: The Synod of Benevento in the Italian town of Benevento decided in 1091 to exclude the Sundays from Lent.. In this respect, the “classic” Lent from Ash Wednesday to Easter without Sundays is 40 days. However, many did not recognize the Synodal Palace and, especially in later Protestantism, Sunday was also part of Lent. In order to get 40 days of fasting, the fasting period started later accordingly.
In 1712 there was a big drum concert with 70 drums on St. Only four years later (1802) was an “orderly carnival parade” officially organized. The now popular “Morgenstreich” (more details below) was committed for the first time in 1808 and officially approved in 1835. Because of the considerable risk of fire, torches and other “open fires” were banned from the parades in 1845.
In 1910, the Basel Tourist Association decided – together with the carnival companies “Quodlibet” (Greater Basel) and “Wurzengraber” (Kleinbasel) – to found a Carnival Committee. This Comité has been the official organizing committee and the point of contact for all questions and problems relating to the Basel Carnival since 1911. The carnival clubs call themselves “cliques” in Basel.
The Carnival nowadays
The Basel Carnival differs considerably from the carnival going on in the Rhineland, Mainz or Munich. So this carnival is primarily a big family festival for the city’s residents. Of course, visitors are welcome for a variety of reasons, but they have practically no opportunity to actively participate in the hustle and bustle – for example, painting or masking oneself as a visitor is strongly frowned upon.
However, in order to still enjoy the festival, it makes a lot of sense to find out about the processes and contents of the Basel Carnival and the local language (Basel German) beforehand. A little knowledge of local events also makes it easier to understand the carnival humor. The best thing to do is to let yourself be captured and inspired by the blaze of color, the rhythm of the drummers or the piccolo flute players. Also from the hustle and bustle in the streets or restaurants of the city – a unique mixture of joie de vivre and melancholy or also of dance of death and mummery. – you can be touched.
The Basel Carnival begins on the Monday after Ash Wednesday at 4:00 a.m. and ends on Thursday at 4:00 a.m. – so the Carnival officially lasts exactly 72 hours. Most of the action takes place in downtown Basel.
It is a moral duty for people from Basel to wear a carnival badge, and visitors are also expected to wear it, even if this is not a “must”. But if you don’t wear one, you’ll be looked at wrongly. The plaques can be purchased in four different versions: copper (8 francs), silver (15 francs), gold (45 francs) and the jewel (100 francs). The proceeds from the sale are distributed to the participating groups (cliques). Visitors can purchase the badge from “hawkers” or from numerous kiosks. Also at the three stalls of the Carnival Committee: on the market square (every three days), on Münsterplatz and Claraplatz (during the lantern exhibition) and on the barracks area in Kleinbasel (during the wagon and prop exhibition).
The morning prank marks the beginning of the Basel Carnival on the Monday after Ash Wednesday at 4:00 a.m. The entire Basel city center is darkened. Around 200 lanterns are carried through the darkened city center, accompanied by cliques drumming and playing the piccolo. The train lantern measures around 3.50 m high and is electrically illuminated. On the lanterns, all incidents of the past year are satirized that are considered worth making fun of. In the pubs or restaurants, which are usually open for the entire 3 days, you can enjoy traditional Basel flour soup as well as onion and cheese flans – a flat cake topped with cheese – mostly warm. Since only the lanterns shine in the otherwise completely dark inner city,
The term Cortège comes from French and in German means something like funeral parade or pageant. Despite the name, the event is not a move like the Rose Monday parades in Germany. Here in Basel, the different groups (cliques) run on two fixed routes running against each other – on an inner and an outer one. In addition, each clique starts at a different place on the route. However, each clique is given a fixed departure point and time, but they determine the location and length of their breaks themselves. Therefore there is no fixed order of the individual cliques.
On Monday and Wednesday afternoons (from 1.30 p.m.) over 10,000 masked people perform their “subjects”, that is, the satirized themes of last year – accompanied by drummers, piccolo flutes and gugge music. The move takes place on foot, on carts and carriages. The “Zeedel” (slips of paper) are distributed, on which the “subjects” (= current topics) are brought closer to the audience in Basel dialect and in verse form. Confettis are thrown from the wagons, but also oranges, sweets or flowers (mimosas) are distributed to women and girls as well as other gifts – a bit like one is used to from the Rose Monday parades in Germany.
On Monday and Wednesday evenings you can experience around 100 schnitzel bank groups singing in the bars of the city. The “subjects” (= current topics) of the previous year are presented in Basel German. Anyone who knows Basel as a German resident should have the texts explained to them best, since Germans will usually not understand them. Otherwise you just enjoy the performance of the groups and their music – even without understanding the content.