Posts Tagged ‘Basel’

When you think of the Swiss, you probably (and rightfully) think of perfectly smooth chocolate, efficient banking, and precision timekeepers.

And then, once per year, they go and do something that is so freakishly contrary to their image. This is Fasnacht, or simply, “Swiss Gone Wild”

No, it’s not this:

(for the record, although cows are docile, wonderful, and tasty creatures who provide us with wonderful things like milk, cheese, chocolate, and leather steering wheel covers, they can be quite dangerous when provoked)

So anyways, today marks the beginning of the festival that is dearest to Baslers – Fasnacht.

According to Wikipedia (and verified by interrogating my Swiss and German friends and co-workers):

“It remains unclear exactly why Carnival starts one week later in Basel than elsewhere in Switzerland or Germany.

The common explanation is that after the Reformation in 1520, Basel continued celebrating its Fasnacht, while the other regions officially stopped. It is said, that in order to differ from the Catholic customs, Fasnacht was scheduled one week later starting in 1529. There are no documents from this era supporting this theory, and the resolutions from 1529 were not quoted until 200 years later.

Historians note that the Catholic carnival date was rescheduled six days earlier in 1091 in the Council of Benevent, because the Sundays were excluded from the 40-day fasting period before Easter, making Ash Wednesday the first day of Lent. From then until the 16th century, the two carnival dates existed. The first one, ending on Ash Wednesday, was known as the Herren- or Pfaffenfasnacht (lords’ or priests’ carnival) and was observed by those members of the higher echelons of society. The second, one week later at the old time, was known as the Bauernfasnacht (farmers’ carnival). Afterwards, only this second carnival was celebrated in Basel.”

Basically, the Swiss (and Basel in particular) continue to give a big ‘eff you!’ to the Pope by celebrating Fasnacht after the start of Lent.

I like it already. The Swiss put the ‘protest’ in ‘protestant’.

When attending the street parade, or Cortège, you should have purchased (and be wearing!) one of these:

Or else a character (Waggis) who looks like this:

Will likely throw at you some of this:

(they also throw candy, oranges, bananas, toys, ladies underwear, carrots, and parsnips).

Sometimes they will just confetti bomb you for fun, after luring you close with the promise of a flower or treat.

We enjoyed listening to the Cliques as they marched with their flutes and drums.Very excellent skills. I was super impressed with the talent of the bands, as well as the amazing costumes and the sharp wit of the themes.

Oh yeah, you can forget about personal space, barriers, or any of that crap. There were two parades going around the city at the same time, on the same route, in opposite directions. We stood in the ‘island’ in the middle of the road, with marching bands and wagons of mad Waggis both in front and behind us. We were brushing shoulders with the drummers!

The costumes were a treat.

This year, the mad dictator Colonel Gaddafi was the prime target. I don’t blame them… the jackass filed a UN submission calling for the abolition of Switzerland after his jackass of a son was arrested here for beating his servants. For real?

So that’s a wrap.

…sort of. The festivities continue for three days. That’s right – three days. Members of the cliques will march through the old city, playing their drums and flutes all day long.

If you are ever going to visit Basel, do it in late February and enjoy Fasnacht.


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It started innocently enough.

Tim explained to Jack that we were borrowing Martin’s car for the morning and asked him where he’d like to go; France, Germany or somewhere in Switzerland.

“Let’s go to France!”, came the reply.  I chuckled to myself knowing that he had no idea how incredibly ridiculous it was that he could choose between three countries for a spontaneous family day trip.

After getting a bit of tedious shopping out of the way (hey! we have more than just wires hanging from our living room ceiling now!), we huddled back into Martin’s car and headed for the hills…well, I guess we actually headed away from the hills but let’s not get uptight about it…we were gettin’ out of Dodge!

At risk of sounding even more like my parents, we didn’t have any sort of plan in mind and just drove.  As a kid, we’d ask dad where we were going and would always get the reply “I don’t know! Ask the car.”  I still get control-freak goosebumps even thinking about how frustrating that stupid answer was.  But in this case, the car most likely did know better than us as to where we were going.  All Tim knew was that he relished in the refreshing 130 km/h speed limits where (get ready to be horrified Victoria peeps) everyone actually drives 130 km/h…and that was in the slow lane. Quelle horreur!

We pulled off and explored a few tiny french villages, eventually settling on Guebwiller, a town of just over 11,000 people.  Claim to fame: birth place of ceramicist Theodore Deck (right, so that’s not very fame-claim-worthy but let’s be honest — good ol’ Theodore just taught you a new word).

Ceramicist‘s aside, the town didn’t have a lot of mojo.  Of the 20 or so shops open, 18 of them were bakeries (seriously, what is in the water over here to keep these people skinny?!?!) but we did manage to find an incredibly authentic chocolate croissant (at a patisserie) and a coffee junkie’s dream of a Cafe au Lait (at a salon de thé). And this wasn’t your typical American latte.  Non non! This was a perfected double espresso paired with your very own single serving milk jug of frothy steamed milk.  Although what I’m about to do goes against everything I’ve ever learned in creative writing grammar classes, there’s no better explanation…



I think the only thing that could have made that cafe experience more enjoyable would have been Jack no longer picking his nose and yelling “KLEENEX!!” while simultaneously holding out his finger in my face every five minutes. But nevertheless, we were in France and it only took us twenty minutes to get there.

As we headed back to Basel, we felt a little bit ripped off, to be honest.  We didn’t do anything all that exciting and there’s nothing like a couple of bored four-year-olds to remind you of that.  The villages were quaint and cute but not really the kind of stuff to write home about. Oh, wait…

So what do you do when you have no idea what to do?

You ask the nearest toddler.

This time the boys insisted we head to the hills. And now I mean the real hills…the ones in the distance with the trees of white and random castles seeming to hang in the sky.  We promptly put away the Tom Tom and pointed the car in the direction of the snow-dusted hilltops.  We ended up in Arlesheim, a little village on the outskirts of Basel. One of the greatest treasures of Europe (and a country so much older than your own), is how easy it is to stumble across this…

J&L having a moment in front of castle ruins dating back to 1356. If you look closely, you can see Jack being all "big brother" to Liam! So cute!

Thanks to some aggressive tree-shaking, the boys got to catch snowflakes on their tongues!

Now, what do you get when you mix two Canadian boys with a pack of Swiss kids and fresh snowfall?

A good ol’ fashioned Canadian whoopin’, actually.

I’ll just start this off by saying that they started it.  We were politely walking around the castle when a snowball came tumbling down from the lookout above (you can see their little heads if you look close enough!).  So as any good Canadian parents would do, we started pelting them with snowballs, packed Canadian-style.

The steep throw was too much for J&L but they held their own critical roles in the battle. As seen here, Jack supplied me with ammunition while Liam taunted them with his "that's all you got" snowball dance.

Eventually the boys had had enough. They stormed the castle! We tried to shout after them and explain the faulty logistics of 2 taking on 8 but it fell on deaf ears. They were hungry for vengeance!

Tim and I followed after them, climbing back up to the castle courtyard. As we rounded the corner, all we saw was absolute chaos. Jack was displaying his Kung-Fu Panda ninja moves in between hucking snowballs from two feet away while Liam just ran in circles tiring all of their throwing arms with his moving target just in time for Jack to pelt them in the face.

A quick scan of the smiling faces of the other parents showed that they were in fact okay with our kids kicking their kid’s butts so we let it go on for a few more minutes.  But when we saw a little boy just standing in the crossfire with nothing but chocolate to defend himself (you’re not fighting ladies here buddy!), we pulled them off of the remaining opposition and said our goodbyes (Auf Wiedersehen!).  As far as we could tell, it ended somewhere around:

Canadian Boys – 5

Swiss Boys – 0

We may have spent time that day sipping cafe au laits in France and trampling on the snow-covered hills of Switzerland but it was all overshadowed by this very proud Canadian moment.

This post has been brought to you by the good people at Martin’s Rent-a-Ford.

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Been here almost one week. The flight was good, as was the train ride from Frankfurt to Basel, despite having a giant bicycle box and plenty of luggage.

Bye-bye shitty Canadian Coffee!

Bye-bye shitty Canadian Coffee!

Got luggage?

Got luggage?
Martin & Anne. Always nutty.

Martin & Anne. Always nutty. By the way, this is a bicycle parkade where we left our bikes when we took the train to Germany for a night!

In case you didn’t know, I’m in Basel, which is in the north-west of the small country, right at the border of France and Germany. I’m staying with some friends – an Englishman named Martin K, and his German girlfriend, Anne. They rock.

I’ve got a sweet room, a comfy bed, a dresser, entertainment, a kitchen, friends who speak English and German, and plenty of help.

Been flipping through listings for “flats” here, and been using my bicycle to check out the city neighbourhoods and scratch some of them off of my list.

I have viewings lined up this week! Thankfully, my French is coming back quickly, because many people don’t speak English, but French is one of the four national languages of Switzerland (the others are German, Italian, and Rommansh).

Had my first day at the new job today, too. Fantastic! Very great group of people, and a very culturally diverse group. One thing that doesn’t change is developers… nerds are pretty much the same all over the world. 😛 I have a crazy big office on the top floor of an old building downtown. I share a massive space (4m x 8m) with one other developer, a German guy named Martin G. Martin has a pony-tail, which instantly gives him street cred in the developer world.

Cycling around town, looking at flats. Stopped for a snack on the banks of the Rhine.

Cycling around town, looking at flats. Stopped for a snack on the banks of the Rhine.

On my bike ride home today, I decided that this place will feel like home. And I’m sure that Natasha will really enjoy it here.

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