Basel’s amazing Fasnacht: How to survive Switzerland’s biggest carnival

Switzerland's most famous Fasnacht (carnival) is in full swing. Here's how to make the most of it.

Basel's amazing Fasnacht: How to survive Switzerland’s biggest carnival
Basel's huge carnival begins with the traditional Morgenstreich parade. Photo: AFP
Rooted in Basel’s annual calendar for centuries and now attracting hundreds of thousands of people to the streets every year, Basel’s Fasnacht is a big deal. Lasting exactly three days – from 4am on the Monday after Ash Wednesday to 4am on the following Thursday, it’s a city-wide party rooted in local traditions and aimed primarily at Basel residents. 
For visitors it’s a fascinating – and sometimes head-scratching – spectacle that just has to be experienced at least once in your Swiss life. 
If you’re planning to visit this year, here’s how to do it.  
Buy a badge
An essential must-do for all visitors to Fasnacht is to buy the carnival badge, or ‘Plakette’, the profits of which go to cover some of the costs of the groups who take part in the parades (and with costumes and masks that take all year to make, those costs can mount up).
The 2019 gold 'plakette'.
Badges come in four varieties – copper, silver, gold and ‘bijou’ (jewel) – with the prices ranging from 9 Swiss francs to 100 francs. Buy yours from an official carnival stall, street vendor or carnival participant, display it prominently on your person, and then you’re all set to party.
Don’t dress up 
It may be a carnival, but Basel’s Fasnacht likes to make a clear distinction between participants and spectators. 
“A big thing to keep in mind is that unlike other Carnivals, it's not really encouraged for bystanders to dress up during Fasnacht,” says Basel-based expat Liz Voss, who blogs about her life in Switzerland at .
That’s clear from the event’s official advice to visitors which says “painted faces, false noses, jester’s caps and bawdy songs are all frowned upon” (also is “raucous or drunken behaviour”).
However an exception is made for kids, says Voss, whose young daughter enjoys dressing up for Fasnacht.  “You will see kids in costume all three days even if they're not in the official procession”.
Be an early bird and catch Morgenstreich
A custom since 1808, Morgenstreich (or Morgestraich in Basel’s dialect) opens the carnival on Monday. Get up early (or don’t go to bed the night before) to catch the 4am start, when the city lights are switched off and lanterns light up the night sky instead. The ‘Cliques’ – groups of drummers and piccolo players – parade through the city streets until daybreak, playing the festival tune, wearing head lanterns and carrying or pushing giant lanterns decorated with caricatures and satirical rhymes.





Basler Fastnacht ??? #morgenstreich

A post shared by Elena (@elena_vis_com) on Mar 11, 2019 at 12:37am PDT

If you’re simply not an early bird, there’s another chance to see all the lanterns in an exhibition in front of the cathedral on Tuesday evening.
“My number one recommendation for Fasnacht is to go to Münsterplatz sometime between Monday evening and Wednesday morning and see all of the lanterns on display,” says Voss. 
“It's impossible to see and appreciate all of the lanterns during the parades, so being able to stroll through Münsterplatz, examining both sides of the lanterns and taking in all of the details, is a must.”
And while you’re there, you might even see some of the Cliques crossing the Rhine on one of the small current-driven ferries. “We heard and saw a Clique dressed as cows cross the river that way in 2015,” says Voss.
Prepare to party all day
As soon as Morgenstreich begins, the party doesn’t let up until Thursday morning.
“The entire Fasnacht area is one big party for three solid days,” says Voss. “I went to Morgenstreich last year and at 3:30am when I got to Barfüsserplatz, the smell in the air was a combination of pot smoke, beer and Red Bull. 
“There may not be official parades happening during the 72 hours of Fasnacht, but there is music and partying the entire time.”
Study the parade route and pick your spot
The 'Cliques' take part in the official parades. Photo: Basel Tourism/Friedrich Reinhardt Verlag
There are two official parades, on the Monday and Wednesday, when over 10,000 masked participants, the Cliques and Guggemusik bands (traditional brass bands) march on foot or on floats along a set route through Basel city centre, throwing confetti and treats to the crowds. Pick your spot using the route map here.
“Our favourite places to watch are near Barfüsserplatz, up the Kohlenberg hill – which lets you see a lot of things but stay out of the confetti if you're so inclined – and in Marktplatz,” says Voss. 
But if you want to get in the thick of it, you might be richly rewarded.
“All of the big floats throw tons of confetti plus lots of other things: flowers to the ladies, stuffed animals and candy to the kids, fruits (mostly oranges), and vegetables (like carrots and onions).” 
“But if you have the gold or bijou badges, you're also likely to get alcohol. Sometimes shots poured into your mouth as the float drives along and sometimes cans of beer or small bottles of liquor tossed your way.”
Get the kids involved
Tuesday is officially children’s day, and although there’s no specific children’s procession, families wander about the streets informally showing off their little ones’ costumes.  
Voss has taken her daughter to Fasnacht twice and says it’s “safe and relatively easy to navigate with children”. 
“The parades on Monday and Wednesday toss out lots of candy and goodies to the kids, so it's a lot of fun for them. The music can be pretty loud, though, so investing in a pair of those soundproof ear protectors might be a good idea,” she suggests. 
Wander the streets
Photo: Basel Tourism/Friedrich Reinhardt Verlag
Part of the fun of Fasnacht is just meandering about the city streets and seeing who or what you bump in to – a habit the locals call the 'Gässle'. At any given moment you’re likely to come across members of a Clique playing their piccolos and drums as they wander the cobbled streets of the Old Town. Fall in step behind them, enjoy the music and lose a happy couple of hours to the festival spirit.
A more organized music event occurs on the Tuesday night when the Guggemusik bands perform on stages on Marktplatz, Barfüsserplatz and Claraplatz in front of thousands of spectators.
Tuck into local specialities
Three dishes are traditionally eaten during Fasnacht: a flour soup called Mehlsuppe, onion pies and cheese quiche. There are also Fasnachtkiechli biscuits and Faschtewajie (a type of pretzel), as well as more usual street treats including roasted chestnuts (heisse marroni) and sausages. 
“Glühwein is also for sale from various vendors and a good way to keep warm and get into the party mode!” says Voss. 
Basel's Fasnacht runs from March 11-13th.
A version of this article originally appeared in The Local in 2018.

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Is Basel the best Swiss city for foreigners and Geneva the worst?

Switzerland’s cities usually nab top rankings in international quality of living studies. But in a new survey, only one Swiss town made it to the top 10. Here’s why.

Basel is Switzerland’s best city for international workers. Photo by Nadine Marfurt on Unsplash
Basel is Switzerland’s best city for international workers. Photo by Nadine Marfurt on Unsplash

Basel is ranked in the 9th place out of 57 cities surveyed in the new Expat City Ranking 2021.

Carried out by InterNations, the annual survey rates cities around the world in terms of advantages they offer to foreign nationals who move there for professional reasons.

READ MORE: The best commuter towns if you work in Basel

The survey, which polled 12,420 people for its 2021 edition, ranks cities based on criteria such as Quality of Urban Living, Getting Settled, Urban Work Life, Finance & Housing, and Local Cost of Living, along with their sub-categories.

Of the four Swiss cities analysed in the study — Geneva, Zurich, Basel, and Lausanne — only Basel was highly rated, and is one of only three European cities ranked in the top 10 (the others are Prague, in 7th place, and Madrid in 10th).

This is why

A popular destination for international employees because of its pharmaceutical industry, including giants like Roche and Novartis, Basel ranked well across all categories.

For instance, it is in the 1st place for its public transportation network, in a 2nd position in terms of Quality of Urban Living, and in 3rd for Safety & Politics.

All expats in Basel (100 percent) are satisfied with public transportation, versus 69 percent globally. The public transportation system is excellent”, one respondent said.

Nearly all participants (97 percent) feel safe there, against 84 percent globally. The city also performs well in the Urban Work Life Index (6th), particularly for the state of the local economy, which is in the 1st place and the working hours (8th); additionally,  75 percent are happy with their working hours, compared to 66 percent globally.

More than four in five expats (84 percent) find their disposable household income enough or more than enough to cover their expenses (versus 77 percent globally), and 77 percent are satisfied with their financial situation (against 64 globally).

Where Basel is doing less well is in the  Finance & Housing Index (34th place), though it still ranks ahead of other Swiss cities: Zurich (37th), Lausanne (39th), and Geneva (53rd).

But the city ranks 48th in the Local Cost of Living Index: 69 percent of foreigners living there are dissatisfied with the cost of living, more than double the global average (34 percent).

The Getting Settled Index (39th) is another of Basel’s weak points. Internationals struggle with getting used to the local culture: more than one in four respondents (26 percent) state that they find this difficult — this figure is 18 percent 1globally.

It is worth mentioning that in the 2020 InterNations survey, Basel ranked in the 24th place, so it progressed impressively this year.

What about Geneva?

Switzerland’s most “international” city due to the presence of a number of United Nations agencies and multinational companies, places near the bottom of the ranking, in the 47th place.

“It has the worst results among the Swiss cities included in the report and is the only one that does not rank in the global top 10 of the Quality of Urban Living Index”, InterNations said.

Similar to the other Swiss cities, Geneva ranks among the top 10 for political stability (1st) and in the bottom 10 for the affordability of healthcare (56th). However, it lags behind for all other factors, with expats particularly dissatisfied with the local leisure options (23 percent versus 14 percent globally).

“Interestingly, the comparably low quality of life does not make Geneva any easier to afford: on the contrary, it is the worst-ranking city worldwide in the Local Cost of Living Index (57th) and by far the worst-rated Swiss city in the Finance & Housing Index (53rd)”, the report noted.

It added that “while Geneva comes 26th in the Finance Subcategory, it ranks 55th in the Housing Subcategory, only ahead of Dublin (56th) and Munich (57th). Expats find housing in Geneva unaffordable (87 percent  vs. 39 percent globally) and hard to find (63 percent vs. 23 percent globally).”

READ MORE: Why is Geneva’s rent the highest in Switzerland?

Geneva has a fairly average performance in the Urban Work Life Index (28th) but receives worse results in the Getting Settled Index (43rd). It ends up in the bottom 10 of the Feeling Welcome (52nd), Local Friendliness (50th), and Friends & Socializing (48th) subcategories.

“It is certainly not easy to integrate into the local culture and community,” said one respondent. In fact, 35 percent find the locals generally unfriendly, against 16 percent globally).

The difficulty is making friends in Switzerland is a well-known phenomenon among the international community.

READ MORE: ‘Suspicious of the unknown’: Is it difficult to make friends in Switzerland?

Maybe this is also why they find it hard to get used to the local culture (32 percent versus  18 percent globally) and do not feel at home — 33 percent compared to 19 percent  globally).

Zurich and Lausanne

The two other Swiss cities with a high proportion of international residents fall between the “best” and the “worst”, with Lausanne in the 21st place and Zurich in the 34th.

“All of them rank among the bottom 10 worldwide for the local cost living but among the top 10 for the local quality of life— except for Geneva, which lands in 21st place.”, the survey noted.

This InterNations chart shows how the four the cities are doing in each category. Please click here for a larger version of the chart. 

Image: Internations

You can find out more about each of the four cities from these links. 

READ MORE: Ten things Zurich residents take for granted

Zurich versus Geneva: Six big differences between Switzerland’s two biggest cities

Swiss town ranked the ‘world’s best small city’