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'It's superb': Lanterns light the way as Basel carnival kicks off

AFP
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'It's superb': Lanterns light the way as Basel carnival kicks off
Revellers parade during the traditional "Morgenstreich" procession starting the carnival of Basel on March 7, 2022. (Photo by SEBASTIEN BOZON / AFP)

Switzerland's biggest carnival kicked off in the early hours of Monday as revellers in fancy costumes lit up the darkened streets of Basel, with many lanterns themed on AI and climate change.

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The three-day event, one of Europe's best-known carnivals, transforms the city streets into a river of painted lanterns, colourful masks and creative costumes, flowing to the sound of pipes and drums.

Tens of thousands of people were up before dawn to see the "Morgenstreich" lantern-lit procession, with some participants wearing lanterns on their heads.

READ ALSO: Basel Fasnacht - What you should know about Switzerland's largest carnival 

At 4:00am the lights were turned off in Switzerland's third-biggest city and the drum majors yelled "Morgestraich, vorwarts marsch!", giving the forward march order to set off, in the local dialect of German.

"The lights go out and then it's chaos, everyone does what they want," carnival participant Daniel Berger told AFP.

"And after that you will only see the lamps, and on the big lamps there is the subject for the carnival this year, and each band has their own subject."

Many chose the subject of climate change, with artificial intelligence, fake news, the 150th anniversary of the Basel Zoo, UBS's takeover of Credit Suisse bank, the "Barbie" movie and wars around the world also featuring.

The world's biggest Protestant carnival, which features on UNESCO's intangible cultural heritage list, starts at 4:00am on the first Monday after Ash Wednesday, and lasts for 72 hours.

Marc Pancera, the head of one of the parading groups, or cliques, told AFP: "We call it the 'drey scheenschte daag', meaning the three most beautiful days in the year. So it's one of the most important things."

Thai tourist Thepa Sonsard was taking in the atmosphere in the northern Swiss city, which borders Germany and France and straddles the Rhine River.

"I heard this carnival is very famous, and because of the UNESCO status I want to see how beautiful it is, how big it is," she said, as fifes and drums played in the background.

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French visitor Manick Lepiez said: "It's superb, it's a big difference from what we have, for example in Alsace. It's nothing like it."

The reason why the carnival takes place a week later in Basel than in other cities in Switzerland and Germany have been lost over the centuries.

It is not known how far the Basel carnival dates back. A devastating earthquake in 1356 destroyed the city's archives, and the earliest document referring to the carnival dates from 1376.

By Boris HEGER

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