When I first arrived in Germany it was February. People were running around dressed like birds. They had colorful suits with flaps hanging off them.
After visiting a few pubs during my first night crawl, these birds were drinking everywhere so I asked a local why.
“It's Fasching time. When Germans let their hair down for three days, drink too much and run amok behind masks. Then when it is over, they all go back to their jobs and “alles in ordnung” (all in order) again.”
For the next five years I will learn to love Fasching time. People either love it or hate it. Many friends would groan when I would get excited that it was that time of year again.
Fasching is celebrated in some parts of Germany, Cologne being the largest, along with German-speaking Switzerland since the 14th century. The date moves each year depending on when the first day of lent for Christians (Ash Wednesday) falls. It can also be related back to farmers in the past saying goodbye to Winter and greeting the coming Spring.
I have seen German festivities each year but the most interesting and unique is held a week later in Basel. Called in local dialect the Basler Fasnacht, conveniently I worked nearby and I always took an afternoon off to experience it.
Beginning at 4:00am on a Monday morning with Morgestraich, the party lasts for 72 hours exactly - ending at 4:00am Thursday. Many bars and restaurants remain open continuously night and day where loads of drinking and sipping Mehlsuppe, the official Fashnacht sustainment, is done. This is a thick brown soup consisting of flour and cheese lumps. It is tastier than it sounds.
Morgestraich is when the street lights of old town Basel are turned off for the parade of illuminated lanterns on wheels as participants march with drums and piccolo around the dark old town streets.Morgestraich Foto source https://www.basel.com
Now I must admit I never got up to go to Morgestraich as at the time I prefered to stay in a warm bed instead of catching a train at 3:00am to get there. The lanterns with their politically satire themes have been prepared for months and change every year. Mockery of Gaddafi was popular for a few years. Now I bet it is all Trump related parodies.
I would go each year to the cortège (parade) commencing at 1:30pm on the Monday and Wednesday through the streets of Basel along two routes. An estimated 12,000 participants wear masks called “Larve” and stay incognito in public behind their masks for 72 hours. Hence crazy behaviour without being recognised.
Lanterns feature in the day parade also
There are various groups participating in the cortège :-
Cliques:- They are headed by a vanguard who carries a stick with a metal ball on the end who acts like a conductor and also moves people out of the cliques way. Cliques are made up of piccolo pipers and drums.
A clique pretending to be cakes?
Gugge:- In the cortège they are the marching brass bands with drumkits on wheels, who are centre stage on the Tuesday night when they perform Guggekoncerts around Basel broadcast on a local Fasnacht TV station. These concerts can be five songs on a street location or also in bars and restuarants.
Floats:- Trucks or tractors pull decorated trailers with Waggi on the back throwing out oranges, candy and branches of wattle flowers. Waggi have massive papier-mache heads and their job seems to be to hassle anyone in the crowd not wearing a pre-purchased carnival badge by drenching them in confetti or running bystanders down in the crowd and physically tackling them.
Spectators line the route with children and adults rushing floats with their hands out gather as many sweets as possible. Waggi use confetti bombs or makeshift long poles with confetti filled scoops on the end to dump over people's heads.
I have seen more than once, a spectator step forward to receive a piece of fruit only to have their wrist grabbed by the Waggi while another stuffs confetti down their back under their jackets and then pushed away forcibly into the crowd and knocking people over. Like I said with a mask on they can get away with stupidity.
Once I got given a bag of “horror acid” that a friend later ate and said it was sherbet
The curious reason as to why the Australian native flower the wattle is the official Basler Fasnacht flower is because it represents Spring coming. Grown in the south of France and called “Mimosa” the yellow flower is the first to bloom before Spring's arrival.
Anyone want some wattle? Outside the famous Basel hotel "The Three Kings"
The cortege comes to an end after three hours and the crowds go home or continues to celebrate with the participants over beers at various venues. The piccolos and drums continue all night until exhustion makes them stop.
The amount of confetti used is massive and it is no exaggeration that at the end of the day the streets are ankle-deep in it. And it is no exaggeration you will be finding confetti in your clothing, pockets, washing machine and house for weeks later.
Next Basler Fasnacht begins 11 March 2019.
All photos taken by myself except where credited.